Rush Limbaugh is now telling his audience the federal government “damn well needs to be shut down” because President Obama intends to take executive actions on immigration policy. Erick Erickson is thinking along the same lines, pushing for a shutdown in a blog post, and reminding his Republican allies that their party has never actually faced adverse consequences from their previous shutdowns, so they have no incentive to back off now.
All of this appears to be causing some anxiety for GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.
As we discussed yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is counting heads and coming to the realization that he may not have the votes needed to keep the government’s lights on. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is “worried” about the direction of the debate and circulating materials to his members arguing against a shutdown standoff.
And Politico reports that Republican leaders in both chambers are scrambling to find a way out of the mess.
Republican leaders have intensified their planning to prevent a government funding showdown, weighing legislative options that would redirect GOP anger at Barack Obama’s expected action on immigration and stave off a political disaster, according to sources involved with the sessions. […]Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their top aides and deputies are mulling several options that would give Capitol Hill Republicans the opportunity to vent their frustration with what they view as an unconstitutional power grab by the White House – without jeopardizing the government financing bill.
Let’s note for the record that neither Boehner nor McConnell are especially strong leaders who demand the loyalty and fealty of their members – this isn’t a situation in which Republican leaders simply tell the rank-and-file members how it’s going to be, with an expectation that the conference will fall in line. Today’s GOP leaders simply don’t have that kind of influence over their ostensible followers.
Instead, they’re floating a series of alternatives intended to placate the far-right while preventing another self-imposed crisis.
The most likely scenario is one in which GOP lawmakers kick the can down the road – just a little – setting up another fight in the new year, though it’s not the only option. From the Politico piece:
The options include offering a separate piece of immigration legislation on the floor aimed at tightening border security and demanding the president enforce existing laws, promises to renew the effort next year when Republicans have larger numbers in both chambers, and passing two separate funding bills – a short-term bill with tight restrictions on immigration enforcement agencies, and another that would fund the rest of the government until the fall.
While this gets sorted out, I thought I’d throw a nagging question out there: if Republicans are absolutely convinced Obama is leading a “lawless” presidency, willfully ignoring laws he doesn’t like, and recklessly abandoning the parts of the Constitution he finds inconvenient, why in the world would GOP lawmakers pass legislation “demanding the president enforce existing laws” on immigration?
By Republicans’ reasoning, wouldn’t the president ignore that, too?
To be sure, the “lawless” talking point is ridiculous, and is more of a temper tantrum than an argument, but I’m nevertheless struck by the inconsistency. “Obama keeps ignoring the law,” they seem to be saying, “so we’ve decided to pass a new law urging him to follow the other laws.”
And while Republicans bat this around, I’d just add that the prevailing winds are blowing in a familiar direction. Last fall, there were broad assumptions that Republicans wouldn’t really shut down the government, but right-wing activist groups and leaders pushed for a standoff, GOP leaders struggled to keep their base under control, and assorted gestures intended to make the right happy came up short. Then there was a shutdown that didn’t do anyone any good, all over a political dispute that was entirely unrelated to the budget or government spending levels.
This isn’t a prediction and maybe things will go differently this time, but the conditions seem awfully familiar.