The opening weeks of the 114th Congress have been nothing short of a disaster for Republicans, who declared upon taking control of both chambers last fall that the era of governing by crisis and fiscal cliffs was over.
Since their declaration, House GOP leaders have yanked several high-profile bills from the floor after rebellions from rank-and-file members.
Counting an emergency measure to keep the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) running through Friday, Congress has sent President Obama a total of only four bills, even as
Republicans promised to get off to a fast start this session.
The low point came Friday, when more than 50 conservative Republicans revolted against Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Debt ceiling games endanger US fiscal credibility — again MORE (R-Ohio) and opposed a bill to fund the DHS.
It was a humiliating defeat for Boehner, who had to turn to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bail him out with only hours to spare before a shutdown at the agency.
“The revolters effectively put Nancy Pelosi in charge of the House,” the right-leaning Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote Monday. It questioned whether the setback meant the end of legislating for the Republican-controlled Congress just more than halfway through “its first 100 days in office.”
“Republicans need to do some soul searching about the purpose of a Congressional majority, including whether they even want it,” the Journal wrote.
The GOP-led Congress has only seen two of its bills become law, a terrorism insurance measure and a veterans suicide prevention bill that were both left over from last year.
The fourth bill approved by the GOP Congress approves construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Sending the bill to Obama represented a victory for Republicans, though it was largely overshadowed by the Homeland Security fight.
But Obama vetoed the Keystone measure, and Republicans don’t appear to have the votes to override him.
Instead of rallying behind a unified agenda, centrist and conservative Republicans now are engaged in open warfare with one another, bickering over the best strategy to push back against Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), a close Boehner ally, ripped “phony conservative members who have no credible policy proposals and no political strategy to stop Obama’s lawlessness.” And former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) criticized conservative rebels as “self-righteous and delusional.”
Another centrist Republican, Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.), even accused conservatives of using the “issue of terrorism” to “advance their very crass, political interests” of trying to oust Boehner from the Speaker’s chair.
In a brief interview, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a Tea Party favorite, wouldn’t say whether conservatives are targeting Boehner, but he slammed GOP leaders for choosing to “negotiate with Democrats” rather than accept a plan by conservatives to continue fighting Obama’s immigration policies.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), another close Boehner ally, said he understands conservative outrage over the president’s immigration actions but conceded that Republicans are powerless without a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
“I don’t mind having this fight here, but it’s not going to be resolved here,” Cole told The Hill. “We don’t have political strength to win in the end.”
In the November midterms, Republicans captured their largest majority in the House in more than 80 years. But they got off to a rocky start.
On Day One of what leaders dubbed the “New American Congress,” 25 conservatives rebelled and publicly voted against giving Boehner another two years as Speaker. While he eventually prevailed, the failed coup attempt was an embarrassing moment for the sitting Speaker and highlighted his vulnerabilities.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the party’s chief vote counter, has had his own share of embarrassments this Congress. On at least three occasions, GOP leaders have been forced to pull bills off the floor, because they lacked enough Republican votes to pass.
In January, female and centrist Republicans scuttled an anti-abortion measure over objections it was too restrictive when it came to exempting women who had been raped. That bill was supposed to pass on the same day as the annual Right to Life march in Washington, but Republicans had to take up a less controversial abortion bill instead.
Just a week later, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and his anti-immigration allies in the House forced leadership to shelve a border-security bill by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), arguing it would do little to stop Obama’s initiatives shielding millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
Friday’s conservative revolt against Boehner’s proposal to fund the DHS for three weeks overshadowed another major failure by the whip team. That same day, leaders yanked legislation overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act, after outside conservative groups claimed the bill didn’t do enough to scale back Washington’s involvement in education policy.
Boehner has acknowledged that his party has had some “stumbles” coming out of the gates. Asked about the latest setback over DHS funding, the Speaker replied that the House of Representatives is a “rambunctious place.”
“We have 435 members,” Boehner said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “A lot of members have a lot of different ideas about what we should and shouldn’t be doing.”
The GOP’s whip operation has had to contend with other distractions as well. Scalise is still dealing with fallout from revelations that he spoke to a white supremacist group when he was a state lawmaker in 2002. He was asked again about the scandal Sunday during an appearance on Fox News.
And a senior member of his whip team, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), is under fire after a series of stories revealed he billed taxpayers and campaign donors tens of thousands of dollars for private flights, concert tickets and extravagant, “Downton Abbey”-style decorations for his congressional office.
Over the weekend, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Schock, once a GOP rising star, had used taxpayer money to charter a flight to a Chicago Bears game in the fall.
As for the current impasse, some Republicans are openly fretting that the funding fight is doing untold damage to the party ahead of 2016.
“The Democrats have got to remember they got fired for a reason. We’ve got to remember we weren’t hired because of our value set. We were hired because they got fired,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is eyeing a potential White House bid. “2015 is about us. There’s nobody to blame but us, when it comes to the appropriations process.
“If we self-inflict on the budget and the appropriations process, and we can’t get the government managed, well then, I think we’re in trouble.”
Alexander Bolton and Cristina Marcos contributed.