Capitol Hill: No Way Out

Published on February 25, 2015

House Speaker John Boehner will find himself in a familiar, hopelessly impossible position this morning when he will face an open rebellion by his right-wing Tea Party faction during a weekly meeting with the House Republican conference over the prospect of a vote over a “clean” funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security before a Friday shutdown deadline.

*** We now think there are odds of at least 35% the DHS will be at least shut down for a few days to a week as the House GOP wrestles with a way out of the self-inflicted political dead-end it finds itself in again. We have also learned Boehner could face a recall petition within his Republican ranks and even if he survives the threat, which he almost certainly will, the internal GOP battles will cast a pall over far more important must-pass fiscal legislation later this year that we believed would provide a fiscal tailwind to the recovery (SGH 12/8/14, “US: A Modest 2015 Fiscal Tailwind”). ***

GOP House in Revolt

We had tended to ignore this looming showdown as it seemed so unrealistic to think the majority of the majority GOP would go this far down the road on a clearly politically suicidal path of seriously threatening to shut down the government agency dealing with domestic counter-terrorism amid beheadings by ISIS and new, conveniently timed warnings over terror threats against American shopping malls. But that is indeed the prospect the GOP faces, with no small cost potentially to its plans for the 114th Congress to prove to voters it can be trusted to govern.

Almost immediately after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed Monday night to split the House-passed DHS bill into two votes, one for a clean DHS funding, and the other for the House-imposed riders defunding President Obama’s loathed immigration Executive Order, Boehner and the House Republican leadership began seeking a sense of the Tea Party numbers and whether or how to whittle down their numbers by meeting some of their demands.

Going into this morning’s weekly Wednesday morning meeting between the leadership and the House conference, there seems to be two options before Boehner, both bad. The first is for the House and Senate both to vote for an extension of the DHS Continuing Resolution for at least several more weeks to allow a bicameral conference committee to figure out how to reconcile the Senate and House bills. It is not clear the House GOP would agree to that, not to mention why the Democrats would give Boehner a pass.

The other is for Boehner to put the clean DHS Senate bill to an immediate House floor vote. It would easily pass with Democratic votes offsetting the 100 or more Republican votes against. But even if the DHS bill is passed, it will cost Boehner dearly in future Democratic demands, and will deepen the distrust of him among a large chunk of his own conference even as his allies seek to whittle down the dissident numbers.

And that Boehner could face a petition within his own Republican ranks to vote for his recall if he allows a Senate passed clean DHS funding bill to go to the House floor to pass with Democratic votes only further complicates the GOP path out of its self-created political mess. Such an ouster would be unprecedented, and the procedure is complicated, but 50 votes within the House GOP would set the petition in motion, which is akin to a vote of no confidence.

The talk of such a move is being orchestrated by the same dissidents within the GOP House conference who tried and failed to vote him out as Speaker in January of this year and in 2013. And indeed, the party crisis right now is only because the same faction led the push to split the DHS funding from the so-called Cromnibus bill in order for it to pass late last year.

While it seems unlikely he will be ousted as Speaker, the threat is enough to potentially cripple the ability of Boehner and the House GOP leadership to put the Senate DHS bill to an immediate House floor vote that could only pass with a Democratic majority.

Reid’s Senate Antics

That Boehner will face such Hobbesian Choices is assuming, as we do, that the Senate passes and sends a “clean” DHS funding bill back to the House before the DHS CR Friday deadline — meaning we also doubt Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will carry on for much longer with his almost bizarre threat to filibuster the clean DHS funding bill Democrats have forced on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Reid, in effect, is recklessly blocking the exits in a theater on fire.

After four successful votes blocking a vote to proceed in the Senate on debate over the House-passed DHS bill with its riders defunding President Obama’s loathed immigration Executive Order, McConnell caved to the Democrats by Monday night.

McConnell has agreed to split the House bill into two votes, the first on a clean DHS funding and a second on the riders. The first will easily pass in a Senate floor vote, and the second, on the riders, will not pass. And again, the logic of Reid’s blatantly political ploy to demand concessions from House Speaker Boehner is mystifying, especially as it triggers mounting internal party criticisms and an intense media attention that will follow.

In any case, after this morning’s House Republican conference meeting, the next move lies with the deeply divided Republicans.

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