“The attorney general wants to trade a briefing and the promise of delivering some small, unspecified set of documents tomorrow for a free pass today. That’s unacceptable. I’m not going to buy a pig in a poke.”
-- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, talking to reporters after a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder in an effort to avoid a looming House vote on a contempt resolution against Holder for refusing to turn over documents relating to a botched gunrunning sting.
President Obama has plenty of problems with the Democratic coalition as the Clintonian wing of his party causes trouble for Obama’s re-election effort. And while not as influential as they once were, moderate Democrats still retain considerable power in the age of Obama.
That wasn’t supposed to be the narrative for this election year. The story was supposed to be about how conservative Republicans rebelled against moderate GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Certainly as the last of the Not Romneys, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, took their turns at the top, the fighting was furious. But the civil war that had been brewing since the 2008 election blew over in astonishingly fast fashion. A race that was supposed to rage until June and perhaps beyond was over at the beginning of April.
Political journalists had been salivating over the prospect of a convention floor fight and a Republican Party that wasted its best chance to defeat an incumbent Democrat since Jimmy Carter. The story line was that with the libertarian-minded Tea Party movement in the mix, the old battles between the GOP establishment and the party’s base would boil over.
But Romney found a way to highlight the parts of his portfolio that please the small-government set without the kind of policy makeover he underwent before his 2008 run. Romney wiggled right a bit, but it was mostly a matter of emphasis.
What allowed Romney to do that was the unifying force of Republican outrage at Obama and his policies.
As each of the Not Romneys proved to be too risky a choice to face the well-funded incumbent, Romney looked better and better to the GOP. When Republicans were thinking like Rep. Michele Bachmann that Obama was a sure loser, they were will willing to indulge riskier bets. As the difficulty of unseating a sitting president sank in, Romney’s stock rose.
But the story isn’t over.
Obama chose a Truman show for one of his campaign motifs. In this narrative, the embattled Democrat in the Oval Office, having suffered a serious midterm spanking, fights his way through a intransigent Republican House and prevails in a narrow, come-from-behind victory.
To add some urgency, Obama announced that he would use executive power to do what Congress wouldn’t. One of the president’s preferred lines for campaign speeches was “we can’t wait.” But the strategy was mostly a fizzle.
Obama wanted to goad Republicans into another round of mortal combat, like the ones that raged last summer over increasing the government’s borrowing limit and avoiding a government shutdown. Obama believes that while he may have suffered some policy reversals, he won the PR battle in those fights.
Best of all for Obama, though, those fights cut right to the quick of the GOP. There were plenty of GOP lawmakers who felt like a government shutdown was the right way to go and conservatives railed against House Speaker John Boehner for settling for reductions to future increases in spending as opposed to actual cuts.
But the stakes were too low. Nobody was going to shut down the government over putting solar panels on federal buildings or yet another program aimed at bailing out underwater mortgage holders. There was grumbling, yes, but most of Obama’s antagonizing executive activism came to naught.
So Obama has upped the stakes and now has two issues that he hopes will revive the kind of GOP infighting that he and many in the press corps were expecting to see.
First is Obama’s audacious move to offer, by fiat, temporary amnesty and work permits to illegal immigrants age 30 and under who came to the United States as minors. Obama had previously made clear that his administration had no interest in seeking out illegal immigrants who were not wanted for other crimes, but that didn’t evoke the desired response.
Making it an explicit offer of temporary amnesty with a work visa to boot, though, has done the trick.
Many Republicans agree with the core idea of the move: that those brought to America as children and raised here shouldn’t be uprooted. While Obama’s temporary amnesty is structured in such a way that those with less moving biographies can take advantage, when phrased artfully the concept is a big winner with voters too.
But many conservative GOPers think that an amnesty, no matter how targeted or temporary, is a bad idea. Add in the fact that the president is so openly flouting congressional authority by explicitly stating laws he is opting not to enforce, and you have some real anger on the right.
Obama’s hope now is to force Romney, Boehner and others into a confrontation with conservatives over the move and be forced wither into a politically damaging stance or see the party start to fracture. So far, Romney has focused on the procedure, not the policy, saying the president is engaged in an unconstitutional power grab, but taken a softer approach when it comes to the substance of the rule.
There aren’t many signs of an uprising on the right, though. This may be evidence of a shift on immigration in the GOP, or just more evidence that Republicans are still unwilling to jeopardize their chances of beating Obama in the name of conservative purity.
The other wedge for Team Obama is Attorney General Eric Holder, now caught in a showdown with Republicans in Congress over documents Holder refuses to release relating to a botched gunrunning sting that dumped thousands of firearms into war-ravaged Mexico, one of which was used to kill a U.S. border patrol agent.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the hard-charging head of the House Oversight Committee, wants Holder to disgorge tens of thousands of pages of emails and other documents relating to the program. Holder has refused and essentially dared Issa to hold him in contempt.
Boehner, meanwhile, is little interested in having such a constitutional struggle if the end result is a federal judge eventually tossing out the contempt charge. Boehner’s message to Issa and others: Don’t start the fight if you don’t think you can win it. Accordingly, Boehner narrowed the scope of documents down to fewer than 2,000, a bar Republicans assumed Holder would surmount.
But not so. The attorney general instead gave lawmakers a briefing on the relevant portion and said some limited documents supporting his position would be made available. Issa and co. are furious and are roaring into a committee vote on contempt charges today.
But again, the administration’s methods may trump the real substance of the wedge play. While Issa seemed unlikely to be satisfied with anything short of the full document dump, many Republicans are in shock at Holder’s response. With the NRA beating the war drums on the case and leaning on lawmakers to bust Holder, his refusal may now actually unite the GOP rather than divide it.
Democrats imagined a summer struggle with Issa playing the part of Torquemada and Holder as the sympathetic victim all culminating in an embittering defeat for the right wing of the party. Ideally, Democrats would also like to see Romney dragged into the struggle and forced to shift his attention from prosecuting Obama’s handling of the economy to a power struggle in Washington.
So far, that hasn’t happened yet, and certainly Holder’s decision to hold out makes Romney’s job easier.
The Day in Quotes
"I would point out that we have one president at a time and one administration at a time. And I think traditionally the notion has been that America's political differences end at the water's edge."
-- President Obama at a press conference at a meeting of the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies in Los Cabos, Mexico blasting an op-ed in a German newspaper by an economic adviser to Republican president nominee Mitt Romney that argued against Obama’s call for additional bailouts and stimulus spending in Europe.
"Marco Rubio is being thoroughly vetted as part of our process."
-- Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in answer to a reporter’s question about an ABC News report that said the Florida senator was not being vetted by Romney’s campaign as a possible running mate.
“As president you swore to uphold and defend the constitution and enforce laws. Your recently announced directive runs counter to that responsibility.”
-- A letter from 20 Republican senators to President Obama asking for an explanation of Obama’s decision to exempt certain illegal immigrants – those under the age of 30 who came to the United States as minors – from immigration laws.
“I don’t want to answer that question. That’s a clown question, bro.”
-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a reference to a similar response from Washington National’s outfielder Bryce Harper last week, answering a reporter’s question about immigration legislation.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Imagine if a Republican who tried to get abolition of the capital gains tax brought to Congress and failed -- imagine if he issued an executive order saying the Treasury will no longer collect capital gains taxes, and anybody who refuses to pay capital gains taxes will not be pursued, looked at, sanctioned in any way. You would then not be screaming that was the discretion of executive. That would cause hysteria among Democrats and calls for impeachment.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.”
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.