It has been obvious for some time that this autumn would be a contentious period in Congress. The most significant, and most immediate, issues to be resolved were approval or disapproval of the nuclear deal with Iran and the passage of a Continuing Resolution to keep the government in operation past September 30. Not much further down the road are the need to increase the debt ceiling and the issue of highway funding. All of that would have been quite challenging enough for the Republican leadership, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, dealing as they must, with not only the White House and Congressional Democrats, but the obstreperous rebels on their own right flanks. As long-time readers of RINOcracy.com will recall, our term for the latter group is the Oozlum Caucus, named for the legendary bird that flies in ever decreasing concentric circles until it flies up into itself and disappears. (See, e.g., Wikipedia.) That is, we have suggested, the kind of flight plan the Congressional Oozlums would dictate for the Republican Party.
Now the febrile fowls of the Oozlum Caucus have gained a new source of infection: Donald Trump. It is not that Trump necessarily agrees with all of their policy views. Rather it is that Trump’s style of sticking a finger in the eye of the “establishment” strikes a highly responsive chord among the Oozlum contingent on Capitol Hill. Trump’s most conspicuous attempt to participate in Congressional deliberations came at a rally at the Capitol on Wednesday when he made a joint appearance with Senator Cruz to oppose the nuclear agreement with Iran. Trump took the opportunity to make a barbed remark about Boehner, “He’s been very disappointing in terms of his vigor and in terms of stopping Obamacare, and certainly in terms of even this,” he said, referring to the Iran nuclear deal.
Fierce opposition to the Iran agreement has forced Boehner to change course from his initial plan to proceed with a vote of disapproval. Boehner’s critics pointed out, correctly it must be admitted, that such a vote would have been entirely symbolic. The Administration mustered sufficient votes in the Senate to prevent a resolution of disapproval from even reaching the President’s desk. The alternative strategy that opponents proposed, and in which Boehner has apparently acquiesced, is to delay any vote past the September 17 deadline established by the law providing for Congressional review. The grounds for the delay are that the Administration has not submitted to Congress a side agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This document describes how questions about the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program will be resolved, as well as the precise operational parameters of the verification regime to which Iran will be subject. The language in the law governing review seems clearly to require that such a document be furnished to Congress. The position of the Administration, however, is that it does not have a copy of the side agreement because it is confidential between Iran and the IAEA.
We believe that objections over the failure to deliver the side agreement are legitimate, but we doubt that the maneuver of delay will be productive. It is thought that the House will seek to press its position in the courts, but that would be a lengthy and very much uphill battle. As a political matter, it is a fair question to ask why the Administration signed on to the underlying agreement if, as it now contends, it allowed an important document to remain outside the bounds of Congressional review. That issue, however, is unlikely to leap out from all the others surrounding the agreement to capture the public imagination. Nevertheless, all things considered, Boehner’s willingness to go along with the strategy is understandable. The more important question may be whether it will strengthen or weaken his hand in dealing with other intra-party conflicts that lie ahead.
The most imminent, and perhaps most important, of those conflicts springs from the attempt to defund Planned Parenthood as a part of the Continuing Resolution required to keep the government operating after September 30. As we recently wrote in Blog No. 76, “The Assault on Planned Parenthood,” we believe that defunding Planned Parenthood is a bad idea and that attempting to do so by threatening a government shutdown is an extremely bad idea. Nevertheless, it is said to be the objective sought “above all” by critics of Boehner and McConnell, both of whom have been adamant in opposing a government shutdown.
As between Boehner and McConnell, Boehner is clearly the more vulnerable. In the Senate, of course, McConnell is saddled with the likes of Senator Cruz (who has publicly called McConnell a liar), but Cruz’s antics and gift for alienating his colleagues have limited his capacity to inflict damage. In the House, opposition to Boehner is more numerous and better organized. The current leader is Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Congressman who in July filed a motion to replace Boehner as Speaker. The motion was filed as “non-privileged” which allowed it to die, but it may be refiled as privileged at any time and require a vote. Hence some have referred to the motion as a “Sword of Damocles” over Boehner’s head. While that may be an exaggeration, Meadows and his cohorts cannot be ignored.
Indeed, Meadows has come to be referred to as “The Donald Trump in the House of Representatives.” As explained by Mike DeBonis in The Washington Post:
Mark Meadows wears his gray hair neatly trimmed and parted. He has been happily married to one woman for 36 years. And “humble” does not begin to describe the two-term Republican congressman’s aw-shucks, nonconfrontational manner.
Donald Trump, in other words, he is not.
But to the hundreds of constituents gathered in a community center auditorium for a Friday night town hall meeting, the differences are purely superficial. The two men, in their different ways, have come to embody the deep disenchantment many Republicans feel about the leaders of their party.
Another Republican Congressman, Milk Mulvaney, put it this way: “The people who are for Donald Trump are against John Boehner, and John needs to accept that and figure out what to do about it.”
Trump’s own comments on Planned Parenthood have been somewhat confused and conflicting, but, then, consistency has never been a hobgoblin of the Trump mind. In any case, he seems quite open to fishing in the troubled waters of intra-party politics in the House. After his critical comment about Boehner, a reporter asked Trump whether he had a preferred candidate in mind for the speaker’s job. While Trump declined to identify a candidate, he managed to suggest that his input would be significant: “I don’t want to say right now but I have a lot of people asking for my support, I will tell you, so obviously there is a movement.”
Although we have sometimes been critical of both John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, and have disagreed on various issues, we believe that on the whole both have performed responsibly and sometimes creatively, sometimes valiantly, in carrying out their difficult assignments. Indeed, it is not we so-called RINOs, “Republicans in Name Only” who are out of step with the mainstream of our party, but our Oozlum colleagues who seek to pursue a narrow right-wing agenda at all costs.
We believe that it is past time for the Republican “establishment,” and particularly its members who are significant donors, to be heard from in a way that will be heard and felt. One way comes quickly to mind. We are, for better or worse, in an era of PACs and we can think of at least two that we would like to see created. One would be to support Boehner and McConnell and to provide support for qualified primary opponents to take on those who consistently fight against their leadership. The second would be to go after Donald Trump. The goal would not be to outspend Trump, but to provide some focus to the essential task of calling attention to his manifest unsuitability as a candidate.