LETTER FROM WASHINGTON
To Democrats Abroad
28 September 2015
Executive Director Emeritus
There has rarely been a moment in recent decades of such great uncertainty about over-arching world political issues: the outlook for effective government in the world’s most powerful nation and the outlook for the blood soaked Middle East’s mass refugee migration.
Our news has been dominated by the visits of the Pope, the President of China, Putin and Rouhani and, now, by the latest casualty in the Republican Party civil war, the ouster of House Speaker Boehner by the Republican ultras. All affect how the crisis in our governance will be resolved.
Our governance is the foremost issue as we move toward national elections next year. It arises for the long simmering conflict within the Republican Party between establishment conservatives (McConnell and Boehner) and a militant right-wing minority that prefers no government to compromise. Both camps are farther to the right than the post-war Republican Party has been. Senator Cruz is the ultra icon. The Freedom Caucus is the ultra faction in the House. Heritage Action for America is the leading ultra agitprop.
The split had been most sensational in the Republican presidential primary struggle with Cruz, Trump and Carson the loudest ultras, Bush and Kasich the establishment conservatives. But, that circus has suddenly been overshadowed by Boehner’s resignation. Our political drama will focus there through the rest of the year and beyond.
The ultras are increasingly angry that the conservative Republican majority in both houses cannot repeal Obamacare, stop Obama’s actions on immigration, stop the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, reject the nuclear deal with Iran, defund Planned Parenthood, or block increases in the sequester caps. They charge that McConnell and Boehner are to blame because they are unwilling to use the shutdown of the federal government as leverage.
Last week Boehner outraged the ultras by preparing to pass a funding measure, including Planned Parenthood, with Democratic votes to keep the government open until December 11 to avoid another government shut down at the end of September. That led Freedom Caucus members to meet him Thursday evening after the Pope had addressed the Congress. He appears to have concluded that if he went ahead with the short-term funding bill, there would be a move to unseat him. Friday morning he announced his decision to resign at the end of October. He explained that he wanted to avoid a vote to keep him in office that would put his supporters at risk in next year’s primary elections from ultra challengers. And,“My first job as speaker is to protect the institution,”
There are now two hypotheses: One, that Boehner will shepherd the short-term funding bill through the House to avoid a government shut down , preside over the election of a new speaker and a new leadership team and disappear back to Ohio. Second, that he will get the short-term funding bill passed, work for the election of an establishment successor and team, and then manage the enactment, with Democratic votes, of major legislation long stalled by the ultras before stepping down.
Two days before the government will shut down if the House fails to extend its funding, there is no consensus about what Boehner will do. He has repeatedly embraced ultra fantasies to keep his Republicans together. He first brought Bibi to address the Congress to exalt hate to defeat the President on Iran and then brought Francis, who supported the President on Cuba and Iran, to exalt compromise and compassion.
There are hints that Boehner may have opted for the second hypothesis. In his Sunday CBS TV interview he called the ultras “false prophets” whose extreme goals were never attainable. And he stood by his earlier description of Cruz, who led the last shutdown and now wants another, as a “jackass”. He intended to “get as much finished as possible.” “I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn”. Some Boehner Republicans and the Democratic leadership are talking up the barn cleaning.
The stalled legislation that Boehner could now move with Democratic votes is long term federal funding that would raise the sequestration caps on both military and domestic spending, multi-year transportation funding, re-authorization of the Ex-Im Bank and raising the debt ceiling. Any and all of these measures are anathema to the ultras both in the Congress and in the Republican Presidential campaign. The ultras see a short-term extension of funding as an opportunity to rally overwhelming support for a government shutdown unless its latest demagogic goal is achieved: defunding Planned Parenthood.
Boehner could reason that with a new speaker and leadership elected to take office in November, his establishment members could protect themselves from ultra primary challengers by abstaining or voting against the stalled legislation. He could afford large Republican defections since Democrats would need only some 20 Republican votes to provide a majority.
The denouement of the Boehner resignation will be with us to, and through, the 2016 elections.
And, oh yes, Pope Francis had a spectacular visit that brought joy to Democrats and pain to Republicans; Xi Jinping and Obama made progress on climate change and cyber espionage but none on Chinese nationalism in the South China seas; Obama, Kerry and Defense Secretary Carter are trying (unsuccessfully) with Russia and Iran to do something to end the war in Syria and remove a major cause for the refugee migration, and Kerry is trying with Rouhani to free Americans held in Iran.
Other than that, the political scene here is pretty quiet.