Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Op-Ed
Opinion Op-Ed
Column

Gridlock's other component: The House GOP's enduring civil war

Acrimony and recriminations in Congress -- and that's just on the GOP side of the aisle
Why John Boehner has the worst job in Washington

The emergency immigration bill House Speaker John A. Boehner initially proposed last week was never going to become law — and he knew it. President Obama had already promised a veto, so the bill was mostly a political message, designed to show that House Republicans could act decisively in a crisis.

Except they couldn't.

Tea party conservatives revolted, demanding a chance to undo Obama's decision to defer deportations of young immigrants. And the speaker added to the picture of disarray by calling on Obama to use more executive power in the border crisis — only a few days after authorizing a lawsuit against the president for excessive use of executive power.

The disaster was a public humiliation for both Boehner and his newly elevated majority leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) — on McCarthy's first week in his new job.

But it was only the most recent of many such battles in the House Republicans' unresolved civil war. Their challenges to Boehner's leadership on major issues have become an annual affair. In 2011, the issue was the federal debt ceiling (conservatives wanted a crisis; Boehner didn't). In 2012, it was the “fiscal cliff” (Boehner wanted to make a deal on tax rates; the tea party rejected it). In 2013, it was a 16-day government shutdown forced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other conservatives over Boehner's warnings.

In last week's episode, moderate Republicans — and yes, there are a few left — said they found the failure to pass the initial version of the bill “terribly disappointing and infuriating,” in the words of Pennsylvania's Rep. Charlie Dent. It took two more days of confusion before the House passed a toughened version of the bill late Friday.

New Jersey Republican Jon Runyan said the episode exemplified what is driving him to retire from Congress this year. “Why I'm leaving this place is because we always wait until the last minute,” Runyan told reporters. “We saw the train come over the horizon two weeks ago — two months ago. Now we're standing here in front of it, still on the rail.”

It's not only immigration. The list of major legislation Congress passed this year has only two entries: a bill to reorganize the Department of Veterans Affairs, and stopgap funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund.

“I have been here 7 1/2 years, and we have never yet solved a real problem that we have fiscally — not one,” fumed Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) “We haven't dealt with Medicare, we haven't dealt with Social Security, we haven't dealt with Medicaid.... We've done nothing but skate.”

A big part of the problem, of course, is that Congress is divided between the two parties, with Republicans running the House and Democrats running the Senate. Legislation that passes one body — the Senate's comprehensive immigration reform bill, for example — tends to die in the other.

But the deep division among Republicans has added another dimension to the gridlock. Boehner has endorsed the principle of majoritarian rule; he wants to pass bills with a majority of his GOP conference, without relying on help from Nancy Pelosi's Democrats. But when three dozen or more of his members refuse to take his lead, there's no majority in the chamber at all.

In the case of last week's border bill, for example, Boehner wanted to avoid insisting on undoing Obama's deferred deportation for “dreamers” brought here illegally when they were young. GOP moderates worried that such a demand would send a message of hostility to Latino voters. But tea party members made reversing the program a conservative litmus test; any bill that didn't include such a mandate, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) tweeted, would be a “crap chimichanga.”

What's the solution? Partisans on both sides, not surprisingly, say it would help to put both houses of Congress under the same party's management.

“If Republicans control the Senate, then [gridlock] isn't possible any more,” Corker argued at a breakfast organized by the Wall Street Journal. “Republicans will control the Congress — and Republicans will have to be responsible.”

But last week's events suggest that one-party control would solve only half the problem. For a GOP-led Congress to be productive, Republicans will still need to end their civil war.

Under these circumstances, perhaps it's a good thing that Congress is heading off for its five-week summer vacation — excuse me, “district work period.”

doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com

Twitter: @DoyleMcManus

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • A former congressman asks: Can we make Congress move?

    A former congressman asks: Can we make Congress move?

    Throughout my time in Congress, and particularly since leaving the House of Representatives last year, the question I'm asked most often is some variation of “Just how bad is it really?” Frequently the question is answered before it is asked: “Congress is completely controlled by big money and...

  • The death of Aylan Kurdi and the need for a moral policy on refugees

    The death of Aylan Kurdi and the need for a moral policy on refugees

    The photo was heartbreaking: A toddler in shorts and a red T-shirt lay face down at the edge of the surf, waves lapping at his head, his body settled into the sand like a piece of driftwood. His name, the world would learn, was Aylan Kurdi, and he and his Kurdish family were heading from Syria...

  • I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    In a few days, the queen of England -- “Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" and so forth -- becomes the longest-reigning monarch in the even longer history of that sceptered isle.

  • Making the most of a cigarette tax hike

    Making the most of a cigarette tax hike

    A bill that would more than triple the California cigarette tax was gaining little traction in the Legislature until it received a push forward from Gov. Jerry Brown's special legislative session on funding healthcare for the poor. The additional $2-per-pack tax imposed by the bill would initially...

  • Do you think like an economist?

    Do you think like an economist?

    Let's see if you think like an economist.

  • How Jimmy Carter championed civil rights — and Ronald Reagan didn't

    How Jimmy Carter championed civil rights — and Ronald Reagan didn't

    In 1954, as segregationist organizations were springing up all over the South in response to Brown vs. Board of Education, the chief of police and a Baptist minister in Plains, Ga., visited a peanut farmer at his warehouse and urged him to join the local White Citizens' Council. The farmer refused....

  • Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    State lawmakers have been trying for four years to provide Californians with more protection against warrantless snooping into their Internet-connected lives. The Legislature is about to take up the issue again, voting on a bill, SB 178, that would require state and local law enforcement agencies...

  • U.S. patience with Myanmar should only go so far

    U.S. patience with Myanmar should only go so far

    When the United States reestablished full diplomatic relations with Myanmar in 2012, the Obama administration was optimistic that the once-isolated Southeast Asian country, also known as Burma, was moving steadily along a path toward democracy. The ruling junta had recently turned over much of...

Comments
Loading
67°