Even by congressional standards, the mixed message from Capitol Hill this week was jarring. On Wednesday, House Republicans approved a civil suit against President Obama – the first such suit in American history – complaining that the White House shouldn’t circumvent Congress when making public policy.
Literally one day later, House Republicans killed their own border bill, prompting GOP leaders to issue a statement urging the White House to circumvent Congress.
On msnbc’s “Morning Joe,” Eugene Robinson asked Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close ally to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), to help reconcile the contradiction. The Republican congressman’s response was striking. For those who can’t watch clips online:
ROBINSON: There was a contradiction yesterday that I’m still struggling to understand. The leadership statement, when the [border bill] didn’t pass essentially said, ‘Well, there are plenty of administrative things that President Obama can do and should be doing at the border, and that was a day after the House voted to sue President Obama for taking administrative actions.COLE: (Laughs)ROBINSON: So, how does that square?COLE: Well, I’m not going to disagree with you because it’s a point I made myself in conference. Look, you can’t say on the one hand that the president’s overreaching by acting without legislative authority and direction, and then refuse to give him legislative authority and direction in another area. So, I don’t disagree with what you have to say at all.
Oh. Confronted with the obvious contradiction at the heart of the Republican game plan, it appears the Republican response is effectively, “Yep, our position is incoherent.” Good to know. [Update: Even Charles Krauthammer is getting annoyed, telling Fox News viewers yesterday, “It is ridiculous to sue the president on a Wednesday because he oversteps the law … and then on a Thursday say that he should overstep the law.”]
Cole’s candor is refreshing, though it also raises the related point about what the president intends to do about the conflicting messages from his far-right friends on Capitol Hill.
At this point, the answer appears to be that Obama will do as Boehner suggested – on Thursday, not Wednesday – and act unilaterally, just as Republicans recommended (except when they recommended the opposite). The New York Times reported this morning:
In a meeting with lawmakers on Thursday to discuss foreign policy, Mr. Obama told Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, that he agreed with Republicans on 80 percent of the elements of the border legislation but disagreed on an important 20 percent: whether to offset the money and how to alter a 2008 law to allow American authorities to more quickly deport unaccompanied children, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.The president said Republicans would have to think long and hard about why they would not act on the areas of consensus, the official added. The result, Mr. Obama said, is that he would have to act over the congressional recess to redirect funding in ways they would not like.
Greg Sargent explained why Republicans have no one to blame but themselves: “And this underscores a key fact about this whole debate: It is precisely because Republicans won’t move out of their comfort zone on immigration – where the only response to the immigration crisis they can entertain is further militarizing the border and expedited/expanded deportations – that Obama is now going to resort to more action on his own.”