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The Price Boehner Pays

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The Price Boehner Pays

US Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 17, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

WASHINGTON — If you wonder why Congress is so feeble these days that it can’t even find a simple way to pass a transportation bill, look no further than Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who proffered a little resolution on Tuesday night to oust John Boehner from the speakership.

The move was quickly dismissed by Boehner loyalists as showboating by a second-term member, and Meadows himself said he might not even seek a vote on his own measure. His hope is to provoke a “family conversation” among Republicans. It’s a heck of a dysfunctional family. The GOP these days may have its advantages on the Lannisters of Game of Thrones fame, but it’s a very long way from the Brady Bunch.

Perhaps by crushing Meadows’ insurrection, which many of even the most rebellious right-wing Republicans thought was ill timed, Boehner will strengthen his hand. The more likely outcome is that this resolution to “vacate the chair” will once again remind Boehner of the nature of the party caucus over which he presides. I use “preside” rather than “lead” precisely because his difficulty in leading these folks is the heart of his problem.

The House GOP (and this applies more than it once did to Senate Republicans as well) includes a large and vocal minority always ready to go over a cliff and always ready to burn — fortunately, figuratively — heretical leaders and colleagues. More important, a significant group sympathizes with Boehner privately but is absolutely petrified that having his back when things get tough will conjure a challenge inside the party by conservative ultras whose supporters dominate its primary electorate in so many places.

This means that Republicans have to treat doing business with President Obama and the Democrats as something bordering on philosophical treason. Yes, on trade, where Obama’s position is relatively close to their own, they will help the president out. But it’s very hard to find many other issues of that sort. Politicians of nearly every kind used to agree that building roads, bridges, mass-transit projects, and airports was good for everybody. Now, even pouring concrete and laying track can be disrupted by weird ideological struggles.

The text of Meadows’ anti-Boehner resolution is revealing. He complains that the Speaker has “caused the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the Executive and Judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American people.” Actually, Congress has done a bang-up job of blocking Obama’s agenda since Republicans won control of the House in 2010. How, short of impeachment, is it supposed to do more to foil the man in the White House?

Meadows also hits Boehner for “intentionally” seeking voice votes (as opposed to roll calls) on “consequential and controversial legislation to be taken without notice and with few Members present.” He has a point. But since so many Republicans are often too timid to go on the record for the votes required to keep government moving — they don’t want to be punished by Meadows’ ideological friends — Boehner does what he has to do.

On the other hand, Meadows’ charge that Boehner is “bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent” is absolutely true.

But the logic of this legitimate protest is that Boehner should allow many more votes on the floor in which a minority of Republicans could join with a majority of Democrats to pass legislation, thereby reflecting the actual will of the entire House. If Boehner had done this with immigration reform, it would now be a reality. Boehner didn’t do it precisely because he worried about what Republicans of Meadows’ stripe would do to him.

Meadows’ move bodes ill for the compromising that will be required this fall to avoid new crises on the debt ceiling and the budget. Republicans already faced difficulties on this front before the “vacate the chair” warning shot, as Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent noted on Wednesday.

And Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC) another Boehner critic, reacted to the resolution by invoking the Lord Voldemort all Republicans fear. Jones expressed the hope that “the talk-show hosts who are so frustrated would pick up on this thing and beat the drum.” It’s enough to ruin a speaker’s summer.

Republicans are talking a good deal about the threat to their brand posed by Donald Trump’s unplugged, unrestrained appeal to the party’s untamed side. The bigger danger comes from a Republican Congress that is having a lot of trouble getting that governing thing down.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com. Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 17, 2014 (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

E. J. Dionne

Besides contributing to The National Memo, E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, and a university professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University.

His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2013).

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  1. Dominick Vila July 30, 2015

    As much as most Democrats dislike Speaker Boehner, the fact is that he is the only obstacle to Tea Party domination of Congress. He has been walking a fine line during the last 6.5 years, between a faction of his party determined to make it as difficult as possible for President Obama to govern, and the more pragmatic wing of his party, which has been quietly trying to find middle ground.
    Boehner will remain Speaker of the House until the next election. If a Democrat wins, he will be blamed for it and replaced; if a Republican wins, he will be replaced because there will be no need to project a semblance of moderation in a party where radicalism, intolerance, hatred, and greed are considered virtues to behold.

    1. stcroixcarp July 30, 2015

      Boehner doesn’t have the leadership skills of Nancy Pelosi.

      1. Dominick Vila July 30, 2015

        I have the feeling that the biggest challenge for him is preventing his party from self-destructing.

        1. Karen Bille-Golden July 30, 2015

          that’s enough pressure to really bring tears to his eyes. Maybe he should assume a real leadership role and stand up to his party…… a political suicide probably, but he could be a hero to some of us.

  2. charleo1 July 30, 2015

    (R.NC.) Mark Meadows might just be the ultimate T-Party Neanderthal the GOP created to make Barack Obama a one term President. Now, along with the 70 or so other House Members of like ilk and temperament, threatens to completely discredit, and bring down the entire Republican Party. And if that happens, what kind of Party comes after that, is very much anyone’s guess. Congressman Meadows hails from what, after redistricting created him, the Whitest, most rural, oldest demographically Republican District in NC. Meadows, an Evangelical, flat taxer, anti-gov. ideologue. Most likely sees the quickest way to impose his extreme delusions on the Country, is to shut down the Federal Gov. cause an international monetary crisis, and a Worldwide economic depression. And accomplish this by refusing to vote in favor of releasing the necessary funds to cover the legally owed, and due payments to the Nation’s creditors. And this, him and his cohorts in the T-Party faction would gladly, and illegally do. Would sit on their haunches, waving the American Flag, spouting their gibberish, as the wheels of government, and business slowly ground to a halt. As bond holders sued in Federal Court for their just payments. As thousands of private contractors, payrolls to meet, did likewise. As the World wondered if we had finally lost our collective minds. Anarchical, and malevolent Politicians like Mark Meadows, would move to take advantage of the enormous chaos, and damage they had intentionally created. And announce to the World, and the American People, their payment demands to release the economy, and Central Government, they now held hostage. And right now, Speaker Boehner stands in the way of all that. Congressman Meadows knows before that would happen, John Boehner would bring a bill to the floor of the House of Representatives, and on a bi-partisan basis, the the economy crushing, Grand Old Party obliterating, crisis, would be averted. And this is what frustrates, and enrages Congressman Mark Meadows, and his malefic Guerrilla insurgency against the government of the Uniter States the most.

  3. latebloomingrandma July 30, 2015

    Seems to me that this Republican party has brought about its own troubles and created a monster that’s now about to devour them. Aligning themselves with big money and a right wing media, they are like a bunch of hacks and lackeys. Soon the word “statesman” will be in the dictionary as an archaic word with no current usage.

  4. bobnstuff July 30, 2015

    The Republicans have invited the zombies in and now they are having the brains sucked out. We can’t blame the zombies, they are doing what zombies do. You need to blame the group that created them and the ones that sent them there. With luck the democrats shirt tails will be enough to get some out but with gerrymandering we will have them for a long time. God help us all.

  5. itsfun July 30, 2015

    maybe the problem is the Republicans won both the House and Senate by campaigning on issues they see as important. Then Boehner ignores those issues and just caves in to whatever Obama wants. The problem with Republicans is they say things to get elected, then after getting elected, they turn into RINO’s because they think they will lose their jobs if they do what they got elected to do. As long as gutless Republicans keep getting elected, the liberals have nothing to worry about.

    1. Darsan54 July 30, 2015

      Or an alternative analysis, candidates campaign on simplistic proposals and are shocked (“SHOCKED,” I tell you, “SHOCKED!!”) when they find issues are actually complex and require deeper thinking.

    2. Grannysmovin July 30, 2015

      Maybe they won the House and the Senate because Democrats didn’t show up for mid-terms.

    3. bobnstuff July 30, 2015

      You have a person who has been a leader in a small part of the country, they says what is needed to get elected, in to many cases they lie about what the problem is and use wrong facts to scare people into voting for them. They thinks they are big stuff and then they get to Washington an find out that they are a small part on a large system and that they only have power when they work with others. These people are leaders and don’t work well with others, they are used to being the boss and in getting their own way. The smart ones learn to trade favors and get called RINO’s for doing their jobs, the others throw little fits and try to hold the government ransom to get their own way. Nothing gets done and you have one third of the government useless. Our system of government only works when people work with the system.

  6. dpaano November 16, 2015

    They are their own worse enemies!


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