One of the most often repeated Republican complaints about President Obama is that he has only made political polarization in Washington worse, despite having promised to end it.
The nation “has been bitterly divided by our president,” Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last Republicans struggle to save funding for Trump's border wall Rubio: Dropping FARC from terrorist list threatens Colombians, US security MORE (R-Fla.) said in May at a GOP fundraiser in New Hampshire. Two years earlier, in South Carolina, he called Obama “the most divisive figure in modern American history.”
But in the last month the Republican hypocrisy in making that charge has revealed itself, even as the refrain has become deafening.
Last week, as the president announced military action against terrorists in the Middle East, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) said Republicans have no interest in holding a vote to authorize fighting the people beheading Americans. The reason the GOP favors inaction, Kingston explained, is that it leaves the way clear to pursue the party’s primary political strategy of constantly attacking the president.
“Republicans don’t want to change anything,” Kingston said. “We like the path we’re on. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long?”
Kingston’s appalling but candid statement fits with the party’s pattern during Obama’s time in office. The border crisis is a prime example.
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo On The Money — Biden stresses calm amid omicron fears MORE (R-Texas) last week threatened to let the federal government shut down. Cruz wants Obama to end the recently-enacted program deferring deportation of children who arrived in the United States illegally but now are in school or the military.
Cruz’s threat was a reminder of the GOP-led fiasco last October, when the party shut down the government for 16 days in a failed attempt to stop healthcare reform.
The Republican right is even refusing to deal with the administration’s $3.7 billion request for added funds to deal with the recent spike in young people from Central America seeking refugee status.
The hard-right wing also refused to work with Republican House leadership on a bill that included about half the money requested by the administration. Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerFeehery: The next Republican wave is coming Rift widens between business groups and House GOP Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Ohio) hoped the half-a-loaf strategy might gain support in the Senate and show his House Republicans taking action.
But the legislative effort ran into a political brick wall.
“Before now, our leadership was looking at what can pass in the Senate,” Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) told the New York Times. “That’s not my concern. I want the most conservative piece of legislation that can pass the House.”
In other words, Labrador and his fellow Tea Party Republicans delight in not working with Democrats.
They are content to play to the far-right wing of their party while sacrificing their responsibility as elected leaders to debate, compromise and govern the country.
The only agenda for those on the most extreme reaches of the right is to attack the president. Last week, an ABC poll found 67 percent of conservative Republicans and 62 percent of all Republicans say they want to vote in the midterms to “express opposition to Obama.”
Compare that against the 64 percent of independents and 63 percent of moderates who reported that President Obama is not a “factor” as they decide how to vote this year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo On The Money — Biden stresses calm amid omicron fears MORE (R- Ky.) apparently agrees with limiting the GOP brand to being anti-Obama. The Nation magazine recently published a tape of promises he made at a Koch brothers event regarding his agenda if the GOP retakes the Senate majority.
McConnell said a Republican-led Senate would stop the Obama administration “on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.” He also promised not to hold a vote on raising the minimum wage. But he offered no positive agenda of his own.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) seems content with that approach. In a memo to House Republicans, he proposed using their brief time in Washington this fall to collect House bills that failed to go anywhere in the Senate and present them to the public as evidence that the Senate is not doing its part to pass legislation.
McCarthy’s strategy was described by a Washington Post editorial as intended to “make Republicans appear as though they are advancing a conservative agenda when, in fact, they are advancing nothing at all.”
Recently a Wall Street Journal editorial lamented how the “lack of any common GOP agenda is leading to the perception of a policy vacuum.”
Maybe the reason President Obama has been unable to deliver on his promise to end political polarization is that extremists have taken over the GOP. He never had a partner to work with him.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.