JONATHAN COHN SEPTEMBER 12, 2011
A Politico story on House Republicans, by Marin Cogan and Jake Sherman, is generating a lot of buzz this morning. And the item getting all the attention is a blind quote, from a senior House Republican aide, questioning why Republicans would pass a bill that might improve Obama's chances for re-election. Here it is:
Obama is on the ropes; why do we appear ready to hand him a win? I just don’t want to co-own the economy by having to tout that we passed a jobs bill that won’t work or at least won’t do enough.
Of course, we've heard this kind of talk from the Republicans before, most famously when Senator Mitch McConnell said that defeating President Obama was "the single most important thing we want to achieve." Hopefully the voters remember this rhetoric next November, when they decide whether to give Obama a second term -- and, implicitly, to reward such single-minded obstructionism.
But since I haven't given up on the possibility of passing meaningful recovery legislation, something else in the Politico story got my attention. It's the comments that conservative Republican lawmakers are making, on the record, about the leadership in their caucus -- and what that suggests about how this debate might play out.
After Obama announced his jobs plan, both Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor went out of their way to strike a conciliatory tone -- Boehner suggesting that Obama's ideas deserve consideration and Cantor noting that Republicans could support at least some of the president's new proposals. The rhetoric was vague and, most likely, just for the sake of appearing constructive. But they provoked grumbling from more conservative House members like Pete Sessions. Via the same Politico story:
“I have great respect for everybody in Republican leadership,” Sessions said. “I found what the president said to be out of balance; … It’s fair to give any [proposal by the] president [a chance] out of respect to him, but also we need to look at the substance.”
We've seen this split between leadership and the right wing before, most recently in the debt ceiling debate, when pressure from extreme elements in the caucus forced Boehner to walk away from a deal with Obama. Maybe the same thing will happen now. But when a caucus is divided in this way, it can struggle to convey an effective message. And maybe, just maybe that will give Obama the leverage necessary to force legislation through the House -- the type of legislation that might, however incrementally, help put people back to work.