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McManus: House GOP’s enduring civil war

The emergency immigration bill House Speaker John Boehner initially proposed last week was never going to become law — and he knew it. President Barack Obama had already promised a veto, so the bill was mostly a political message, designed to show that House Republicans could act decisively in a crisis.

Except they couldn’t.

Tea party conservatives revolted, demanding a chance to undo Obama’s decision to defer deportations of young immigrants. And the speaker added to the picture of disarray by calling on Obama to use more executive power in the border crisis — only a few days after authorizing a lawsuit against the president for excessive use of executive power.

The disaster was a public humiliation for both Boehner and his newly elevated majority leader, Kevin McCarthy — on McCarthy’s first week in his new job.

But it was only the most recent of many such battles in the House Republicans’ unresolved civil war. Their challenges to Boehner’s leadership on major issues have become an annual affair. In 2011, the issue was the federal debt ceiling (conservatives wanted a crisis; Boehner didn’t). In 2012, it was the “fiscal cliff” (Boehner wanted to make a deal on tax rates; the tea party rejected it). In 2013, it was a 16-day government shutdown forced by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other conservatives over Boehner’s warnings.

In last week’s episode, moderate Republicans — and yes, there are a few left — said they found the failure to pass the initial version of the bill “terribly disappointing and infuriating,” in the words of Pennsylvania’s Rep. Charlie Dent. It took two more days of confusion before the House passed a toughened version of the bill late Friday.

New Jersey Republican Jon Runyan said the episode exemplified what is driving him to retire from Congress this year. “Why I’m leaving this place is because we always wait until the last minute,” Runyan told reporters. “We saw the train come over the horizon two weeks ago — two months ago. Now we’re standing here in front of it, still on the rail.”

It’s not only immigration. The list of major legislation Congress passed this year has only two entries: a bill to reorganize the Department of Veterans Affairs and stopgap funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund.

“I have been here 7 1/2 years, and we have never yet solved a real problem that we have fiscally — not one,” fumed Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “We haven’t dealt with Medicare, we haven’t dealt with Social Security, we haven’t dealt with Medicaid. …We’ve done nothing but skate.”

A big part of the problem, of course, is that Congress is divided between the two parties, with Republicans running the House and Democrats running the Senate. Legislation that passes one body — the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, for example — tends to die in the other.


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