the national interest

Today in ‘John Boehner’s Life Is a Living Hell’

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) listens during a media availability after a House Republican Conference meeting December 18, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner announced that he is moving to a plan B to solve the fiscal cliff issue and he will put a bill on the floor that increases taxes for people whose incomes are more than one million dollars.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The political premise of my magazine story about the Republican Congress is that the Tea Party wave of 2010 is not actually receding. Republican leaders have managed to deflect the bug-eyed rage to adopt extreme tactics against President Obama, but this has caused the rage not to dissipate but to build up in frustration against the party leadership. It’s popping out in all sorts of ways now.

Senator Mike Lee says Republicans must shut down the federal government and refuse to open it unless President Obama defunds his own health care reform law. That sounds completely insane, but (as I note in my story) Marco Rubio has endorsed the same position. According to Lee, “a corresponding effort is starting to be kicked off in the House.”

Meanwhile, conservative Republicans want to hold the debt ceiling hostage when it comes up again next fall. Not only that, they suspect their fellow Republicans lack the stomach to really hold a gun to the head of the world economy and pull the trigger, so they are maneuvering to prevent them from making any deal. Pat Toomey now says he doesn’t trust Paul Ryan — Paul Ryan! — not to sell out the party by agreeing to lift the debt ceiling:

Harry Reid is going to have to deal with Republican conferees in the House,” Scarborough said. “You certainly trust Paul Ryan, don’t you, to do the right thing?”

Earlier this year, it was Republicans in the House that suspended the debt ceiling concept altogether for a period of time.” Toomey replied. “They said, ‘Let’s just the pretend there’s no debt ceiling and allow the government to just keep borrowing.’ I disagreed with that decision.”

Meanwhile, Steve Stockman is circulating a discharge petition in the House to force John Boehner to create a select committee to investigate Benghazi. Boehner has favored handling Benghazi, which is more of a conspiracy theory than an actual investigation, through numerous committees, muffling its impact while lending the investigations a sheen of normality. Conservatives want a single, select committee, no doubt run by the truest-believing conservatives, to run the hearings in the most high profile way, and in keeping with the base’s certainty of the administration’s guilt:

The factual collapse of the Obama scandals has placed Boehner in a worse position. He can no longer throw his party foursquare behind scandalmongering without the national press corps, which initially hyped the “Obama scandals,” potentially heaping ridicule on the Republicans for chasing ghosts. Yet in the minds of most conservatives, the Obama scandals remain as sinister as ever.

Stockman’s petition has zero chance of passing. 160 Republicans have already endorsed the select committee, and even if all them signed, which they won’t, it would fall well short of the 218 signatures needed. But the petition is not designed to pass. It’s designed to raise the profile of the demand, and more broadly, to ratchet up the pressure on the Republican leaders to placate their angry maximalists.

The ultra-conservatives won’t get their way on the select committee. They probably won’t get their way on shutting down the government on Obamacare, though the possibility is getting less inconceivable all the time. What they are certainly winning is the creation of a narrative, in which the feckless Boehner keeps collaborating with Obama rather than stand for true conservatism.

Every time this happens, the next betrayal gets trickier. The fall will bring a quick succession of events — a possible government shutdown and a debt ceiling fight — merely to avoid calamity. If Boehner gets through those events, plus stiffing conservatives on the Benghazi investigation, he’ll be facing a potential open rebellion even before he tries to cut some kind of deal on immigration. If Boehner holds on to his job through the next election I’ll be surprised and impressed. The walls are closing in on him.