I profoundly wish we could all suspend politics and simply concentrate on the relief efforts along the Gulf Coast, but given the administration’s focus on political damage control, that’s impossible. Moreover, as the DLC pointed out yesterday, the administration must admit its mistakes or continue them.It’s beginning to look like they may not have much choice. The administration’s aggressive political strategy over the last week–alternating from rationalizations to blame-shifting to claims that the president has now saved the day–is failing dismally. Even the most fool-proof Rovian tactic–filling the air with noise and creating an atmosphere of polarization so foul that people give up trying to “understand” and view events through a strictly partisan prism–is failing, as more and more rank-and-file Republicans, and even conservative opinion-leaders, find the damning facts uncontestable. The single biggest symbol of this development is today’s Robert Novak column. The Prince of Darkness, Washington’s most reliable barometer of the conservative zeitgeist, barbecued the administration for both its handling of Katrina, and its ham-handed political response, which clearly has Republican Congressmen fearing for their re-elections. Novak goes out of his way to quote Rep. Chris Shays–hardly one of the Prince’s favorites, but a guy whose fate in 2006 could have a large bearing on the future control of Congress–as directly comparing the Bush White House to Nixon’s in its “sense of arrogance” and its belief that “loyalty and never admitting a mistake matter more than the truth.” Novak generally knows what he’s doing, and the Nixon analogy was a big shot across the bow of the White House to remind its occupants that GOP loyalty has its limits. Those of you old enough to remember Watergate, and those who have read about it, are probably aware there was a palpable turning point in 1974 when many Republicans abandoned Nixon out of outrage or political expedience. No, I am not suggesting that Bush is in the kind of peril that engulfed Nixon, but still, given the enormous partisan loyalty he has commanded in the past, wholesale GOP defections on a fundamental question of leadership, competence and honesty, are a danger sign to Bush of unprecedented magnitude.
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.