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Image: President Biden Meets With Congressional Leadership For Policy Discussions
Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell address reporters outside the White House after their meeting with President Biden on May 12, 2021.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

When Republicans refuse to take 'yes' for an answer

GOP leaders' opposition to a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission is emblematic of a larger truth: negotiating with Republicans like McCarthy is pointless.


On a variety of issues, Republicans in D.C. have an annoying habit of making unreasonable demands, assuming their requests will scuttle a deal. Then, Democrats, eager to pay high prices in the interest of governing, give in to their unreasonable demands, at which point Republicans decide they're against the deal anyway.

We saw this in 2014, for example, when Republican insisted that then-President Barack Obama embrace something called "chained CPI" -- a controversial change to how Social Security benefits are calculated -- as part of a long-term debt-reduction deal. The White House reluctantly agreed, at which point Republicans criticized their own idea and walked away from the negotiating table.

We saw it again throughout Donald Trump's term, especially on the issue of immigration. Even after congressional Democrats, desperate to protect Dreamers, offered him tens of billions of dollars to construct a giant border wall, the Republican balked.

Yesterday, it happened again, when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-N.Y.) announced his opposition to a bipartisan deal on creating a Jan. 6 commission. The way in which Politico framed the developments yesterday struck me as notable:

The big news on the Hill this morning is that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced his opposition to a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission. He issued a statement against the proposal and spoke out against it at the House GOP Conference this morning, even though his ally John Katko (R-N.Y.) negotiated on his behalf and secured almost all the concessions McCarthy had sought.

By all accounts, there's no real ambiguity as to what happened. The House GOP leader encouraged one of his allies to work on a deal, and McCarthy made sure to include unreasonable demands he expected Democrats to reject. Instead, the minority leader's ally "secured almost all the concessions McCarthy had sought."

Indeed, John Katko said the agreement he reached with House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is "nearly identical" to the one House Republicans originally proposed in January.

And yet, McCarthy wouldn't take "yes" for an answer. In fact, last night, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) formally notified his members that the GOP leadership is recommending a "no" vote on the agreement Republicans helped negotiate.

To be sure, we know why. Donald Trump, for example, is demanding that the debate over a commission come to an immediate end, and McCarthy is reportedly scared about having to be a key witness in the investigation.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees. Democrats, once again, invested time and effort into good-faith negotiations. Democrats, once again, made their own bill worse, on purpose, in order to get Republican buy-in for the proposal. And Democrats, once again, were told their concessions weren't enough for their GOP counterparts, who don't mind throwing their own ideas -- and their own negotiators -- under the bus.

When it comes to the commission investigating the insurrectionist riot on Jan. 6, time will tell whether McCarthy and his cohorts succeed. The House will likely pass its measure today with at least some bipartisan backing, at which point it will head to the Senate, where a Republican filibuster is inevitable. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday vowed to bring the proposal to the floor anyway, daring the GOP minority to block it.

But while we wait for the final outcome, the lesson should be obvious: negotiating with Republican leaders is generally pointless. There's no shortage of issues on which President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are ready to deal -- infrastructure, voting rights, immigration, et al. -- but they're working with GOP counterparts who've proven they won't take "yes" for answer.

All of which leads to the inevitable question of why Democrats even bother, when they have the option of trying to govern without them.