Can John Boehner's catastrophic speakership get any worse?
Boehner can't quit the right, so he keeps doing wrong
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is not very good at his job. Or maybe he just hates the Republican Party. It's impossible to tell anymore.
On Tuesday, Boehner finally threw in the towel on his foolhardy attempt to block President Obama's immigration order via a fight over Homeland Security funding. It was a doomed attempt from the start, premised as it was on the belief that Democrats would magically give in to his demands. In the end, Boehner admitted a DHS shutdown was "simply not an option" and accepted the Senate's bipartisan bill to fully fund DHS.
So what did Boehner accomplish from all this? Aside from placating his caucus' insatiable right flank for a few months, nothing.
The DHS funding gambit was an exercise in cynicism from the start, and a transparent one at that. Boehner insisted for weeks that blame for a DHS shutdown should lie with Senate Democrats. But polls showed that a significant majority of Americans would have blamed Republicans. Even Fox News didn't buy it.
By picking the losing fight anyway, Boehner once again painted his party as obstinate and clueless, and himself as slavishly beholden to a small, vocal wing of the party. It could have been worse. Had Boehner really allowed a DHS shutdown to occur — and weeks ago he said he was "certainly" willing to let that happen — it would have been a PR disaster for the party. Terrorism in the Middle East and Europe have dominated headlines for months, and a Homeland Security shutdown would have given Democrats a golden opportunity to assail Republicans for leaving America vulnerable.
Speaking of PR disasters, Tuesday also saw another calamity of Boehner's creation, when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a divisive speech to Congress blasting the Obama administration's ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. The speech was condemned as a partisan stunt, in large part because Boehner invited Netanyahu without first informing the White House. Many Democrats refused to attend, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who did go, came away calling it an "insult to the intelligence of the United States."
Tuesday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Boehner, but it was only the latest dismal chapter in his disastrous speakership.
Since grabbing the Speaker's gavel, Boehner has been unable to figure out how to get around his party's right wing. In every battle, Boehner must weigh the demands of an obstreperous cadre that considers "compromise" a four-letter word against a course of rational governance. And when the hardliners' demands win out, Boehner forges ahead with no game plan to extricate his party from disaster. The fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling standoff, the government shutdown, the DHS fight, and on and on — all are products of Boehner's floundering political machinations.
At times, Boehner's stumbles have blown up in epic fashion. On multiple occasions, he canceled votes at the last minute when it became clear he lacked the votes to avoid humiliating revolts from his own caucus. In his race to please the base, he couldn't even sue Obama properly, as two law firms quit his long-promised litigation over the Affordable Care Act.
Boehner's bumbling makes sense to a point. In limp fits of self-preservation, he kowtows to the right before making a show of grudgingly dealing with Democrats. This would be perfectly understandable if not for the fact that Boehner keeps harming his own party in the process. The government shutdown torpedoed the GOP's image. More petulant brinksmanship will only bring more of the same.
And to what end? Either Boehner truly believes he can stare Democrats into submission — and now that he's formed a pattern of caving in fight after fight, there's no reason why Dems would ever crack in the future — or he's doing this all to save his own skin. Either he's a horrible tactician, or a self-interested leader willing to save himself at his party's expense.
In other words: Boehner is either terrible at his job, or he hates the GOP.