As last week got underway, the political world was faced with unsettling circumstances. With five days remaining before the Department of Homeland Security ran out of funds, Republicans were at odds with one another, struggling to craft a coherent strategy.
As this week gets underway, the circumstances seem … surprisingly familiar.
Late Friday, soon after House Republicans once again betrayed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and ignored his resolution to the DHS fiasco his party created, Congress grudgingly approved a one-week extension to current Homeland Security funding, avoiding a shutdown and setting the stage for another week of drama on Capitol Hill.
But while last week’s chaos was humiliating for Boehner and his leadership team, it was also a surprisingly informative series of developments. We may have ended up at a similar point, but we’ve learned a few key lessons in the interim.
1. Speaker Boehner is as weak in the 114th Congress as he was in the 113th and 112th Congresses.
When the new year got underway, the House Speaker felt pretty good about his political standing. Boehner was poised to lead the largest Republican conference America has seen in generations, giving him new leeway to advance must-pass legislation. Sure, in the four previous years, Boehner proved to be the weakest Speaker in modern times, but it was a new day – gains in the 2014 midterms offered new promise for the accomplishment-free GOP leader.
Last week, those promises were thrown in the trash. Boehner’s conference may be larger, but so too is the embarrassment that comes with failure – the Speaker urged his own members to follow his lead on DHS funding, and in a familiar response, House Republicans ignored him.
2. The House GOP leadership team lacks basic competence.
After Eric Cantor’s constituents rejected him, House GOP lawmakers assembled a new leadership team intended to give Republicans their best chance at success. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was awarded with the key, Majority Whip post – and protected after a racially charged controversy in December – because he had a unique connection to the party’s far-right flank.
But this team is as inept as the last. It’s not just that the party’s rank-and-file members ignored their ostensible leaders; the problem is compounded by the fact that GOP leaders had no idea their members were poised to defeat their own party’s plans. A leadership team that can’t persuade its members has a problem; a leadership team that can’t count to 218 has a more serious problem.
3. The legislative prospects for this Congress are effectively dead.
The 112th Congress, dominated by a Republican House majority, passed no meaningful legislation. The 113th Congress, dominated again by a Republican House majority, also passed no meaningful legislation. If last week was any indication, the 114th Congress will keep up the recent tradition of futility and ineptitude.
I can appreciate why it seems early to dismiss legislative prospects for the next 22 months, but let’s not forget how simple last week could have been: Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, Congress and the White House all agreed on how much to spend on the Department of Homeland Security, and as of this morning, the measure is still proving to be an incredibly difficult lift. If routine tasks create chaos, how can lawmakers reasonably expect to tackle complex legislation that may require compromise and an appreciation for nuance? If President Obama were interested in striking a bipartisan deal on a major issue, with whom would he even try to negotiate?
As for where things stand, a bipartisan Senate majority is already on board with a clean DHS bill, and House Democrats were under the impression on Friday night that the House would adopt this course this week. Over the weekend, however, House Republicans insisted there is no deal and it remains an open question how GOP lawmakers will clean up their own mess before Friday night.
There are related questions, including whether Boehner’s job is in jeopardy, which we’ll explore as today progresses.