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.
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.
UPDATE: On Friday afternoon, President Barack Obama appeared in the White House press briefing room to announce that he had spoken to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, to note that Secretary of State John Kerry had made progress in getting a strong UN resolution regarding Syria, and to blast House Republicans for bringing the government to the brink of a shutdown and for threatening to play politics with the debt ceiling. He reiterated his vow not to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling. Extending the government's borrowing authority so Congress can pay the bills it has already racked up, he said, "is not a concession to me." He called it "the solemn responsibility" of lawmakers.
With the Washington crisis of the week not yet resolved—whether the US government will shut down on Tuesday because GOPers block legislation funding federal agencies—President Barack Obama, at a rally in Largo, Maryland, promoting Obamacare, looked ahead on Thursday morning to the next showdown and issued a hard-and-fast proclamation: "I won't negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America." Obama was referring to raising the debt ceiling, which will have to be done in the next few weeks (or the US government will default and possibly trigger a financial crisis that could go international). To emphasize that Obama was drop-dead serious about not responding to Republican threats to hold the debt ceiling hostage once again, the White House immediately tweeted out that sentence. The message: This was no off-the-cuff rhetoric.
President Obama: "I won’t negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America." #EnoughAlready
Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who's busy trying to concoct a strategy for the more immediate budget crisis, did respond to Obama's no-deal position on the debt ceiling: "I am sorry, it just doesn't work that way." So though it seems at the moment that a government shutdown might be averted next week—if only by a bill that provides for the temporary and short-term continuation of appropriations for the government—a titanic confrontation is looming over the debt ceiling, with the GOPers angling to prevent an expansion of the government's borrowing authority unless Obama agrees to accept deeper spending cuts, defund Obamacare, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or whatever. This is a fight with higher stakes; a global financial crisis would cause more economic chaos than a short government shutdown. And Obama has been planning for this stare-down for two years, saying publicly and privately that he will not blink.
My pal Chris Matthews has a well-timed book coming out next week. A quasi-memoir, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked chronicles the odd-couple relationship that conservative icon Ronald Reagan and liberal workhorse Tip O'Neill developed after Reagan became president in 1981 and had to contend with the Democrat-controlled House that O'Neill presided over as speaker. Matthews was present at the creation of this pairing, serving as a young aide and strategist for the experienced, feisty, and crusty O'Neill. In fact, Matthews, as he explains in this gripping, behind-the-scenes, first-person account, was recruited as an O'Neill lieutenant by other Democrats seeking to bolster O'Neill's national standing and touch up his media skills so the speaker could have a chance in the coming political warfare between him and the popular and telegenic 40th president of the United States.
The subtitle is something of a spoiler, giving away the moral of this story. It also proclaims the here-and-now relevance of this engaging patch of history, for yes, children, once upon a time partisan arch-rivals in Washington were able to fight fiercely over profoundly important policy matters, hurling tough words and concocting clever ploys to gain the upper hand, without threatening government shutdowns or financial crises, without hostage-taking, and without resorting to the most excessive rancor. More significant, amid these bare-knuckled battles, these two strong-willed political foes were able to put aside acrimony to craft the occasional compromise, such as an accord to raise taxes (to tame deficits), legislation to strengthen Social Security, and a jobs bill to counter the ravages of recession. Government was divided, but it sort of worked.
On September 10—hours before President Barack Obama delivered a primetime White House speech on Syria—former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who was in his second day as cohost of CNN's revived Crossfire, circulated a dire fundraising email on behalf of the American Legacy Political Action Committee, which he and his wife, Callista, founded and now serve as honorary co-chairs. "The current debate regarding a strike against Syria is a classic Washington distraction," Gingrich huffed, calling the president's proposed retaliatory attack for the regime's use of chemical weapons "insignificant" and "largely symbolic." He declared that a "brief bombing campaign" would do nothing, while other issues—the possibility of a nuclear Iran, the spread of radical Islam, and cuts in US military spending—will "fall to the wayside." Gingrich asked recipients to join him in opposing Obama's threatened strike against Bashar al-Assad and urged them "to donate to American Legacy PAC today to help stop our nation from engaging in a costly endeavor that would result in few beneficial outcomes."
There was one problem with this pitch: American Legacy was doing little, if anything, to oppose possible military intervention against Syria. The PAC's website notes that it exists to support federal candidates who share conservative values. The money raised by this email would not directly finance organizing aimed at thwarting Obama's plan. And there was another problem: This PAC, founded in 2010 and fronted by Gingrich, bags a lot of money from conservative donors, but little of this cash reaches candidates. During the 2012 election cycle, the group took in $515,321—most of it from donors contributing less than $200—and it doled out a measly $9,000 to seven Republican candidates, including Ohio Senate candidate Josh Mandel, Virginia Senate candidate George Allen, and Gingrich himself.
In the current election cycle, according to federal disclosure reports and recent PAC emails, American Legacy PAC has raised $1.4 million, as of July 15. But so far it has given only $27,500, or 1 percent, of its haul to five candidates—among them Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas). American Legacy also transferred $500 to a committee created partly to retire the debt from Gingrich's failed 2012 presidential bid.
R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for the PAC who also was a spokesman for Gingrich's 2012 effort, says there's an explanation for the large discrepancy between funds gathered and contributions dispersed: The PAC is building up its mailing list in preparation for the coming election year, when it intends to distribute big bucks to worthy conservative contenders. Given the group's dismal 2012 record—distributing 1.7 percent of its contributions to candidates—Hammond's assertion warrants skepticism. Meanwhile, most of the money flowing into American Legacy PAC is benefiting vendors and consultants who have long been associated with Gingrich.