House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to reporters about the impasse over passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, on Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House Speaker forgets how leverage works

[Update: This afternoon, Boehner’s preferred solution for Homeland Security funding was rejected – his own members killed his plan. It’s part of a familiar of pattern of House Republicans ignoring their ostensible leader.]

As his weekly press conference was getting underway yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), before he starting making odd kissing noises, tried to argue that Democrats are responsible for the Homeland Security mess his party created.
“I just think it’s outrageous that Senate Democrats are using Homeland Security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president,” the Speaker argued.
Boehner shouldn’t use words if he doesn’t know what they mean; it ends up being embarrassing for him and annoying for everyone else. In this case, Republicans are holding DHS funding hostage and Democrats aren’t prepared to pay the ransom. In English, that’s not what “blackmail” means.
But with 16 hours remaining until Homeland Security funding expires, it seems Boehner doesn’t know what “leverage” means, either.
House Republicans are floating a plan to delay a possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security by voting on a short-term measure to keep the agency funded and continue their immigration fight into next month.
GOP House members met behind closed doors late Thursday to plot a plan forward, even as the Senate prepared to approve a “clean” DHS bill not tied to measures that would halt the president’s executive actions on immigration.
As recently as Wednesday, the Republican Speaker said the House wasn’t prepared to do anything until the Senate acted. So, the GOP Senate leadership prepared its own spending bill, which it would pass today and send to the House to avoid a shutdown.
Last night, Boehner decided to ignore what he’d said the day before, and instead prepared a new plan: kicking the can down the road three weeks, guaranteeing we can all experience this same mess in mid-March.
Can’t anybody here play this game?
It’s true, of course, that a short-term, three-week extension of current funding would prevent a DHS shutdown tonight. If given a choice between kicking the can down the road and nothing, the Senate may feel like it has no choice but to accept this silly solution.
The obvious flaw, however, is that this wouldn’t solve the underlying problem, so much as it delays the inevitable for no apparent reason. The less-obvious flaw is that the Speaker’s office is effectively abandoning the whole idea of leverage.
From the outset of this mind-numbing fight, the Speaker felt he had the upper hand: he’d hold Homeland Security funding hostage, threatening Democrats with a shutdown unless Congress were permitted to destroy the White House immigration policy. Under the ham-handed plan, Dems wouldn’t want a shutdown; they would be convinced that the GOP isn’t bluffing; and they’d give in to Republican demands.
Except it was all a sham. Boehner is making it abundantly clear he doesn’t want to cut off Homeland Security funding, which means, of course, that Democrats have no incentive to pay the ransom and free the hostage.
The Speaker set the rules for this game, but he’s not playing it well. Boehner is simultaneously telling the political world, “Give us what we want or Homeland Security is in deep trouble,” and “Don’t worry, we don’t actually intend to hurt Homeland Security.”
If this is the course Congress takes today, the Speaker will have three weeks to get a dictionary and look up words like “blackmail” and “leverage.”