House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), likely the next Speaker of the House, caused an unexpected stir this week when he appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. When the Republican leader effectively confessed that his party’s Benghazi committee is a taxpayer-funded election stunt, it touched off a significant, lasting controversy.
But that wasn’t the only exchange of interest during the interview. At one point, the conservative host rattled off his top four priorities: “defunding Planned Parenthood, defunding executive amnesty and immigration, defunding Obamacare, and this Iranian deal is an unmitigated disaster that will lead to a modern-day holocaust.” On these issues, Hannity asked, “if Kevin McCarthy is the Speaker of the House, will you tell conservative America tonight that you will fight to the end” on these priorities? Will the GOP leader “encourage every member to defund on all of those issues and use that power of the purse? Are you willing to go that far tonight?”
McCarthy replied, “The answer is yes.”
The New Republic’s Brian Beutler explained very well why this matters.
Hannity surely misunderstands a lot of things, but he isn’t confused about the tools available to Republicans in Congress. Planned Parenthood’s federal reimbursements, like the money that finances Affordable Care Act subsidies, can’t be turned off without new legislation that the president agrees to sign. President Barack Obama’s temporarily stymied deportation relief policies are similarly self-financed under current law. The nuclear agreement with Iran isn’t a new expenditure or a policy that entails novel administrative costs.When Hannity says he wants these initiatives “defunded” through the “power of the purse,” he’s asking McCarthy to attach amendments to annual government spending bills or the debt limit and to give Obama and the Senate a choice between enacting them or turning government operations and the economy into collateral damage.
Quite right. It gets to the heart of why House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earned the ire of the Republicans’ far-right base – and his own right-wing members – ultimately leading to his historic resignation.
As has been well documented, Boehner’s GOP problem had little to do with substantive policy disputes. He’s not a moderate. The Ohio Republican actually agreed with his members’ far-right agenda.
But Boehner also recognized institutional limits, recognized that the Democratic president would not simply bend to his will, and believed it would hurt his party if Republicans routinely punished the country with shutdowns and sovereign-debt crises.
Conservatives were disgusted, not substantively, but tactically. Republicans have come to believe that concessions, like compromises, are inherently wicked, and must be avoided at all costs. Boehner rejected every White House overture, and pushed his party’s vision as hard as he could, but he didn’t, to use Hannity’s phrase “fight to the end.”
Indeed, Boehner only helped orchestrate one government shutdown and one debt-ceiling hostage crisis. The American mainstream may see these as damaging and unnecessary incidents that Boehner should have avoided, but Republicans see these crises as little more than a good start – a modest foundation for more forceful, politically violent confrontations.
Boehner never built on that foundation, so he’s giving up his gavel. The consequential question is what McCarthy intends to do when that gavel is in his hands.
According to what he said on Fox News on Tuesday night, McCarthy intends to go even further than Boehner to deliver on the party’s far-right wish-list.
The effects on the nation are likely to be severe.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this report.