I’m getting that deja vu feeling as House Republicans these past several days have failed to alter the public’s perception that they’re incapable of governing.
This week marked Episode 2, Season 2 in the series “Homeland Security Face-Off.” Subtitle: “How Republicans Forfeit the White House in 2016.”
Notwithstanding Tuesday afternoon’s vote, which funded the Department of Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year, last week’s high-stakes game of chicken — and this week’s near repeat — provides a lesson for future skirmishes.
We’ve seen this all before. House Speaker John Boehner tries to get his conference to act rationally, but the 52 or so whose mission is to act disruptively at any opportunity force the House majority into a “bad deal,” to borrow from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s description of our current negotiations with Iran.
If I may pause for just a moment. What a strange juxtaposition to have Netanyahu outline worst-case scenarios should our current proposed deal with Iran go through, effectively freeing Iran, a leading instigator of terrorism in the Middle East, to construct nuclear weapons in 10 years — and our own Congress’ inability to fund Homeland Security amid a dispute over immigration.
Back to our more immediate reality and the prosaic if tawdry machinations of government.
President Barack Obama, much of the media and the tea party gang share common cause in placing blame for the House’s fumblings on Boehner’s leadership. But comparisons to previous speakers are too facile. Times change.
Lest the tea party faction or the Freedom Caucus construct an effigy in my image, allow me to note that, yes, they are doing their people’s bidding. These folks who prefer shutdowns to compromise were elected to stand on principle, no matter the consequences. Given that most are in no danger of being challenged in their home districts, they seem perfectly content to oblige.
They may be viewed as villains in Washington but they’re hailed as heroes back home, where hating Beltway insiders is a campaign pledge.
But principles defended at the expense of pragmatic application is the business of priests.
Here on terra firma, if you lose, you lose. You may be re-elected as approval for your zeal as a live-free-or-die, stand-with-Bibi, “Duck Dynasty” patriot, but to what effect if one’s ability to bring about change is neutered in the process?
It is fair to note that Boehner hasn’t been able to corral enough votes to move forward with any momentum. In 2013, he essentially caved to his members and allowed them to shut down the government.
But it is also true that a leader can’t lead those whose proudest accomplishment is to not follow.
Not even Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is a member of the tea party, has been able to whip his brethren into line. Herding cats? Loading frogs into a wheelbarrow? There is yet no simile or metaphor adequate to describe the moment.
How about this: They are like the football player who intercepts a pass, then turns around and runs the ball over the opposing team’s goal line.
Insisting that Homeland Security funding be attached to the president’s executive actions to curtail deportations of immigrants here illegally — a predictably losing gamble for Republicans — was a touchdown for the other team.
Once again, Democrats were handed the opportunity to point out that Republicans aren’t in town to govern. They’re in town to lose.
Last week’s “patch,” as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described the seven-day continuing resolution to fund Homeland Security, merely set up this week’s repeat. Tuesday morning, Boehner laid it out to his conference: Either pass a clean bill or pass another CR and still lose.
Apparently, he was successful in selling the only real deal available. The House passed the clean Senate bill 257-167.
Whether this solution changes public perception sufficiently — and whether it can hold through the Republican primary process — is yet to be seen. In the meantime, what we do know is that a Republican can’t win the presidency if the party more widely is considered not ready for prime time.
Without the 40 percent of the Hispanic vote widely considered necessary to win, and enough independents and moderates who are turned off by the more-righteous-than-thou Freedom Caucus, a Republican doesn’t stand a chance.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.