When the Republican-run Congress convened in January, Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado freshman, said his party’s task was to govern “responsibly” and “maturely.” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed.
As Congress prepares for its August recess, accomplishments, along with maturity, have been in short supply during the first 200 days of the 114th Congress.
Many of the problems besetting Boehner and McConnell result from deep divides within their party. The shortcomings include:
▪ A stalemate on a long-term, essential transportation/infrastructure measure. While they approved a short-term fix, House and Senate Republicans publicly demeaned the efforts of the other chamber.
▪ Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas accused McConnell of telling a “flat-out lie.” McConnell then denied Cruz an opportunity to offer an amendment on the floor.
▪ Mark Meadows, a House member from North Carolina, filed a motion last month asking Boehner to “vacate” his post. It was the first such move in 105 years.
▪ A reneging on promises to offer alternatives to the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform. Both the House and Senate staged futile votes to repeal Obamacare while offering no replacement; there was nothing on immigration.
Looming over the lawmakers are fights over government funding and raising the debt ceiling.
Conservatives, the rank and file in the House, along with presidential contenders in the Senate, are threatening a government shutdown unless Planned Parenthood is defunded; the concessions that will be demanded for raising the debt ceiling will be greater. But President Barack Obama, with no elections to win, has no intention of bowing to these challenges.
Washington was incensed by Cruz and Meadows’ actions. But Meadows’ office says reactions to his anti-Boehner call were 99 percent favorable. And Iowa conservatives praised Cruz for taking on a congressional leader.
Top Republicans fear the rise of Donald Trump’s candidacy as his attacks on immigrants and trade only exacerbate the party’s internal difficulties. Establishment Republicans are considering putting pressure on second-tier candidates to bow out because the real estate mogul might be more vulnerable in a smaller field. That’s likely a quixotic mission and hope.
The poor performance of a congressional party has sometimes helped an eventual nominee: Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Obama in 2008. But congressional antics in 2011-12 hurt Mitt Romney.
If Boehner and McConnell are able to avoid a shutdown or a debt default and pass a highway bill, any adverse consequences for the party’s standard-bearer could be neutralized. If not, the once bright prospects of a Republican Congress will be an albatross for the party.
Albert R. Hunt is a columnist for Bloomberg View.