Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
At the start of this shutdown-struck week, I published a piece asking whether Barack Obama should "reveal his inner pissed-off president." The point was to wonder if it were time for the president, who usually keeps his cool, to call out the tea party Republican hostage takers as crazies hell-bent on imposing suffering on millions of Americans—by shuttering the federal government and/or forcing a US government default—due to their obsessive opposition to Obamcare. It's unclear whether there's anything the president could say that would change the perverse internal dynamic within the House Speaker John Boehner's GOP clown show, but perhaps—call it an outside possibility—a more forceful and direct rhetorical shot from the White House could have some impact on the national conversation.
On Tuesday, Obama appeared in the Rose Garden and did angrily denounce the extremist Republicans for causing the shutdown and threatening to turn the coming debt ceiling tussle into another crisis. "That's not how adults operate," he declared, ratcheting up the tough talk. But the question remains: Is Obama's language sufficiently descriptive for the situation at hand?
On Wednesday evening, Obama met with congressional leaders at the White House. The 90-minute confab was, as expected, unproductive. Afterward, Boehner told reporters, "All we are asking here is…fairness for the American people." Fairness? That's been the call of the Republican crusaders in recent days. They have been unwilling to fund the government at the reduced levels they demanded (via the debt ceiling negotiations of 2011 that yielded the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration) because they are trying to ensure "fairness" on Obamacare.
Is the Republican Party committing suicide this week? The final results of the shutdown blame game won't be in until the government is un-shut. Yet at the same time that the party is allowing itself to be branded as an ideologically rigid outfit controlled by political hostage takers, it has been endangering its future by waging a high-profile but Alamo-like stand against Obamacare, just as a main component of the health care program is kicking in—and appears to be popular.
If anything has defined the GOP in its must-destroy-Obama phase, it's the party's virulent opposition to the Affordable Care Act. And with Obama reelected, the economy slowly improving, and deficits slowly decreasing, Republicans have bet almost all the chips they have left on the decimation of Obamacare. With Sen. Ted Cruz wagging the party, the GOPers pushing for the government shutdown—aided and abetted by Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, and other influentials of the far right—have focused exclusively on Obamacare. This confrontation over government spending has nothing to do with, well, government spending. The shutdown was merely a way for Cruz-controlled Republicans to vent about Obamacare. So if the Republican party stands for anything today, it is obstructing Obamacare. But here's the rub: What if Obamacare works?
The initial response to yesterday's opening of the state and federal exchanges that are providing affordable insurance plans to Americans who previously could not obtain coverage has Obamacare proponents dancing. Millions of Americans were not scared away by Koch-financed ads (including this rapey spot). Sure, there were glitches and websites crashed. But that's natural, given the overwhelming demand. And the exchanges have weeks to work out the kinks before the December 15 deadline to finish enrolling people for the coming year.
So while the Republicans have succeeded in forcing a shutdown of the government—according to the latest polls, not a popular endeavor—their crusade against Obamacare has harmed their long-term prospects in several ways:
Why is House Speaker John Boehner defying democracy? There are about 175 House Republicans who would likely vote to continue government spending without blocking Obamacare, if given that chance. Add them to the 200 House Democrats who would support a clean continuing resolution that would undo the government shutdown underway, and—presto!—you would have a whopping 86 percent supermajority in favor of moving on. Yet Boehner refuses to bring such a measure to the House floor. Why not? The conventional explanation is simple: He would lose his speakership because the tea party House GOPers pushing for confrontation would rebel. Without the support of the 30 or more die-hard conservatives, Boehner would no longer command a majority within the House, and his gavel would disappear.
But how would such an anti-Boehner mutiny occur—and would it necessarily end up a success?
Under House rules, a speaker can be challenged at any time. Any of the 435 House members can introduce a bill to boot a speaker—and obtain a quick vote. According to the House rules, "A resolution declaring vacant the office of Speaker is presented as a matter of high constitutional privilege." This means that such a measure essentially goes to the front of the line. It doesn't have to wind its way through the rules committee, where the speaker and his allies could smother the legislation. Nor would this privileged motion require unanimous consent to reach the House floor. A House member need only announce his or her intention to place this resolution on the floor, and the speaker must schedule a vote within two legislative days. The measure then can pass on a majority vote, as long as a quorum (that is, half the House) is present.
Just as House Speaker John Boehner was concluding a brief press conference on Monday afternoon—declaring that House GOPers would once again send to the Senate a bill funding the government that would block Obamacare, practically ensuring a government shutdown—I bumped into former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who now works at Patton Boggs, a powerhouse law and lobbying firm in Washington. Glad not to be part of the mess? I asked.
"I'm of two minds," Lott said. "I'd like to be in the arena and help work something out. But it's gotten too nasty and too mean these days. I couldn't work with these guys."
What do you think of how Boehner and the House Republicans are handling this?
"They've made their point," Lott huffed. "It's time to say enough and move on." Referring to the die-hard tea partiers in the House Republican caucus, he added, "These new guys don't care about making things work." Lott noted that in the mid-1990s, he warned then-Speaker Newt Gingrich not to force a government shutdown. "I knew it wouldn't be good for us," he said.
So how does this end? Lott said he still was optimistic that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could step in and negotiate a deal—maybe a short-term continuation of spending. (Not too long ago, I noted that the odds of a successful McConnell intervention were low.)
I asked Lott if his old GOP pals still serving in the Senate have lost control of their party. How do they feel about that? I inquired. Lott shook his head: "That Ted Cruz. They have to teach him something or cut his legs out from under him."
Cut his legs out? Yeah, Lott replied with a chuckle. He noted that when he was in the House in the 1980s he mounted a campaign against a fellow Republican who had challenged him for a leadership post. "Took me two years," he recalled. "But I got him. And he was out of the House." Recalling his vindictiveness and hardball politics, Lott chuckled once more. "Call me if you want more red meat," he said, before heading toward the car waiting for him.
UPDATE: On Monday evening, the House Republicans refused to accept a bill funding the government that did not block Obamacare and, once again, passed spending legislation that would undermine the health care program. Consequently, a partial shut down began at midnight. Hours earlier, on Monday afternoon, Obama had criticized Republican extortion tactics. As of Tuesday morning, the president had not responded to the shutdown.
This is damn crazy. Isn't it about time for President Barack Obama to say that? Or something like that?
More from David Corn on the looming government shutdown.
Once again, a rump group of Republican radicals in the House are throwing the US government into chaos, threatening a shutdown of federal agencies (unless Obama agrees to smother Obamacare in the crib) that could harm the economy and setting up another showdown over the debt ceiling that could cause a financial crisis that stretches from the United States to markets around the world. The president has denounced this obstructionism gone wild. On Friday, he decried House GOP "grandstanding," noting that "House Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open, or shut it down just because they can’t get their way on an issue that has nothing to do with the deficit." And he criticized GOPers for playing politics with the full faith and credit of the US government: "do not threaten to burn the house down simply because you haven’t gotten 100 percent of your way." Yet Obama has still not turned up the rhetoric full-blast, and this is a situation when he would be justified in amping up to an 11.
Let's review for a moment. The House Republicans—led more these days by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) than Speaker John Boehner—keep screaming that the American people have demanded that they block Obamacare. But what's the evidence of that? Last year, the presidential candidate who called for repealing Obamacare received 59.1 million votes; the fellow who owned Obamacare earned 62.6 million votes. And House Democratic candidates together won over a million more votes than GOP House candidates. (It's partially because of gerrymandering that this lopsided vote count resulted in Republican control of the House.) So however you slice it, the last time this nation voted, more people voted for the party of Obamacare. Yet because the GOPers control a little more than one half of one body of Congress (or, put it this way, a bit more than one-half of one-third of the legislative-executive branches of the government), their extremists believe they are entitled to take hostages to eviscerate a law that was previously passed by Congress, signed by the president, and okayed by a conservative-led Supreme Court.