With the government skidding towards yet another shutdown due to the inability of the Republican congressional leadership to control its own members, some familiar fractures in the House GOP caucus are once again being pried open. The Hill notes that conservatives in the House are plotting yet another bound-to-fail coup against John Boehner over the Speaker’s unwillingness to hold government funding hostage until Planned Parenthood’s federal subsidies are nixed. The right-wing House Freedom Caucus has announced that it won’t back any bill that retains funding for Planned Parenthood, and if Boehner tries to move ahead with funding the government over their objections, then they’ll set in motion the conspiracy to boot him from the leadership.
Boehner’s allies don’t seem too concerned, but they’re nonetheless piqued at the House Freedom Caucus for stirring up this trouble and undermining Boehner’s authority. House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes talked to The Hill and offered a characteristically blunt assessment of the Republican insurgents:
And House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who is part of Boehner’s close-knit circle, attempted to turn the tables on members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, denouncing them as “right-wing Marxists” who have empowered House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) by undermining Boehner.
“The right-wing Marxists have teamed up with Pelosi. They’re the ones who always team up with Pelosi. They are the Pelosi Republicans,” an infuriated Nunes said in an interview. “The Freedom Caucus is an arm of Pelosi.”
Nunes is known for his colorful and creative insults, and he has little tolerance for these shutdown antics. In 2013 he described the Republican lawmakers responsible for the Obamacare shutdown fight as “lemmings with suicide vests.” But aside from the self-contradictory “right-wing Marxists” jab, he’s largely correct about what the House Freedom Caucus is accomplishing with the Planned Parenthood crusade – they’re handing the Democratic opposition power that it wouldn’t otherwise enjoy.
Remember that the split between Republicans isn’t over ideology or even policy outcomes. It’s all about tactics. John Boehner and the rest of the leadership want to defund Planned Parenthood, but they recognize the futility and high political risk of trying to achieve that end through a government shutdown. The House Freedom Caucus wants to defund Planned Parenthood by any means necessary, and is willing – eager, even – to shut down the government to get what they want. By allowing this tactical difference to pose as a test of ideological purity the hardline conservatives are forcing Boehner to look elsewhere to find the support he needs to keep the government running, which means cutting deals with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats.
Of course, Boehner is not blameless here. He has, on more than one occasion, caved in to the unreasonable demands of his hyper-conservative caucus members, thereby setting himself up for failure and giving Pelosi the opportunity to swoop in and save the day. This session of Congress began with a shutdown drama over Homeland Security funding that Boehner initiated and prolonged because he felt he needed to appease conservatives in the House who were upset over Obama’s immigration policies. It was a fight he was never going to win, and when he tried to wriggle his way out of the jam at the last second, he was undermined by those same conservatives. That’s when Pelosi and Harry Reid stepped in to work out deals with Senate Republicans, and hold press briefings detailing the vote schedule and the path to resolution – you know, stuff that the leadership usually does.
Put simply, the disarray within the House GOP is the not the fault of any one group or member. It is the product of many years of determined incompetence and mutual distrust that impels all parties to act irrationally and self-destructively. The only people who benefit from this dynamic are the Democrats, who every now and again are called on by circumstance to save the day.