Double dare! Triple dare!
If it were the 1970s, Congressional Republicans would be right there with Evel Knievel and his motorcycle. Jumping a long row of double-deckered British buses at Wembley Stadium. Flying over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Catapulting above a line of Mack Trucks.
Congressional Republicans are a daring lot. Much of this Congress is going to involve the GOP trying to pass bills and daring President Obama to veto them And if he does, Republicans can place the blame on the president. He’s the one holding things up. This helps the GOP make the case for the White House in 2016.
Imagine the adrenaline rush for the thrill-seekers then.
Seriously though, the year is starting out with dares – dares in which Mr. Obama is happy to engage – and perhaps issue dares back to Republicans.
The White House this week issued two immediate veto threats on bills to expedite construction of the Keystone pipeline and to define full-time work as 40 hours under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The latter provision is controversial because Obamacare designates 30 hours as full-time. As a result, some businesses trimmed employee hours.
The House approved both measures with dispatch this week. Both gained marked support from Democrats. The House adopted the measure to tweak Obamacare 252-172 with 12 Democratic yeas and zero GOP defections. On Friday, the House okayed the Keystone measure 266-153 with one member voting present. 28 Democrats also voted yea along with no Republican nays.
But the White House issued veto threats on both provisions. The speed of the threats angered House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
“The president at a minimum could have waited a few hours,” fumed Boehner. “Maybe he could have waited a few days. We were taking our oaths of office when they were issuing veto threats. Come on.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted such threats weren’t surprises, considering the fact that most Democrats back Mr. Obama on those two, touchstone topics.
In his opening day speech, Boehner said that the goal of lawmakers was to “disagree without being disagreeable.”
For her part, Pelosi said Democrats are willing to work with the GOP…up to a point.
“We have a responsibility to find common ground. But that does not mean that all disagreement goes away,” said the California Democrat.
And guess what? To actually pass legislation in this Congress, Republicans may have to again turn to Democrats in both chambers. And they run the risk of inflaming their base by promising big action on flashpoint issues like Keystone and health care – only to come up short.
Here’s why. On the Obamacare bill, 252 members voted yea out of 424 who cast ballots. It takes two-thirds to override a presidential veto. So with 424 members voting, the House would need 287 members to override. Not even close. And no one knows what will happen on this in the Senate. Some Democrats will certainly vote yes. They need 67 votes to mount an override there. But the Senate may not even be able to cobble together 60 votes twice to break a filibuster.
Then there’s Keystone. There were 266 yeas out of a total of 420 members who cast ballots. For that measure, two-thirds would be 280. So again the House was well shy of the ability to override. And the Senate? Well, that’s another story. Again, there’s bipartisan support for Keystone. The Senate has its first test vote late Monday afternoon, needing 60 yeas. The Senate will probably cross that threshold. But getting to 67 to override is a high bar right now.
This is where the dare comes in. Republicans are daring Mr. Obama to veto both packages even if they lack the votes to override. Then they can pin all of the blame on the president. The GOP believes that’s good politics and will work in their favor with the public. But it’s a dare.
The outcomes of Keystone and health care may already be a fait accompli. But that is not the case with funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And Republicans are already setting up double-dog dare on that front.
The infamous “CRomnibus” spending bill funded all sectors of the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, September 30. However, in an effort to combat President Obama over his immigration executive orders, Congressional Republicans insisted they only fund DHS through February 27. That way, the GOP could curb the executive orders and “defund” immigration services covered by the executive action. That would trump the president.
House Republicans rolled out a bill to do just that on Friday. It goes before the House Rules Committee late Monday and could appear on the floor by the middle of next week.
If Republicans can get the Senate to go along, they effectively dare Mr. Obama to sign the bill and trash his executive orders – or risk funding for DHS.
Of course, Republicans brewed this plan right as a deadly terrorist insurrection played out in France. The confluence of Congress simultaneously wrestling with a DHS spending bill as the Charlie Hebdo siege unfolded wasn’t lost on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson when he visited the Capitol Wednesday.
“It is becoming a more and more complex terrorist threat. It is evolving in that there are more affiliates and adherents to core terrorist organizations and lone wolf actors. Actors who may work within our society who could strike with little notice,” said Johnson.
Johnson suggested that if there’s no DHS funding agreement, Congress may have no other option but to provide DHS with money under a stopgap spending package, known as a Continuing Resolution (CR).
“We cannot continue through the course of the year to be funded through a Continuing Resolution. That poses real risks to homeland security,” Johnson said. “As long as we are operating on a CR, we have real challenges.”
Boehner scoffed at suggestions that the GOP immigration gambit would put the U.S. at risk when it comes to DHS money.
“We will fund the department,” said Boehner. “What is at risk is the rule of law and the sanctity of the Constitution. Congress cannot just sit here and look the other way.”
Rep. Steve King (R-IA), one of the most-outspoken voices against Mr. Obama’s executive orders, was impressed with the plan Republican leaders propounded on immigration.
“We will get universal support of Republicans,” said King. “We have a core of a good bill that cuts off the president’s lawlessness.”
But King conceded Republicans have a challenge in front of them if the president vetoes the package. And it’s far from clear to see how this moves through the Senate, let alone by the February 27 deadline. NBC’s Frank Thorp asked King if DHS might shutter over the pending conflict.
“It’s possible,” replied King.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) argued that even during the 2013 government shutdown essential terrorism and security services didn’t cease at DHS.
“Unless the president plays games, the border security will not shut down,” said the Florida Republican.
But in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) conceded Republicans could be on dangerous ground.
“We’re playing with fire no matter what we do,” said Gowdy.
Gowdy noted the party would be in trouble if it didn’t challenge Mr. Obama on the immigration executive orders. But like Diaz-Balart, Gowdy’s also skeptical of what would happen if DHS funding wasn’t fully in place by late February.
“They also told us that sequestration would result in all forms of the Apocalypse. There is a credibility deficit here,” said Gowdy.
Which is the reason that following the horrors of France that this fight could really just be about optics. The Obama Administration and Democrats may portray Republicans at exposing the U.S. to security breaches at a very dangerous time around the world. It may just be window dressing. But the optics could be bad during this period of volatility. Who wins? Well, the GOP could certainly point at the president for not signing their DHS bill at a time like this. But some blame the GOP for attaching an item to the DHS plan. That tactic mirrors what forced a government shutdown in 2013 when conservatives insisted the GOP attach Obamacare defunding language to a massive spending bill.
Regardless, the clock is ticking on this issue more quickly than most realize. The House is expected to pass this plan with little problem next week. There won’t be anything close to two-thirds to override. And it’s unclear if Republicans in the Senate can muster anything close to 60 to break two filibusters and pass the measure, too. Such an endeavor could take a week-and-a-half, even if the Senate has the votes. And if the GOP is daring a veto, what happens if it can’t override? Would Republicans even consider stripping out the executive action provisions just to fund DHS?
“I said we’d fight (the executive orders) tooth and nail when we had new majorities in the House and Senate and I meant it,” proclaimed Boehner Thursday.
Keep in mind, there is something of a dare going on for Boehner to not back down from this fight. Conservatives are leery of Boehner. Just examine the 25 GOP defections on this week’s vote for Speaker.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) voted in favor of Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) for Speaker.
“I got thousands of calls from my district urging me to vote for someone else,” said Meadows, explaining how his constituents demanded a change at the top.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) cast the sole ballot for Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) for Speaker. The Kentucky lawmaker was apoplectic at rookie Republicans who proclaimed on the campaign trail they wanted a change at the top yet supported Boehner.
“They violated a campaign oath in the first 30 minutes of being a member,” bristled Massie. “There should be a lot of worried freshman right now.”
So there’s a dare for Boehner to stick to his guns. And imagine the insurrection on the right if the GOP fails to undo Mr. Obama’s executive orders? Or better yet, if Republicans won’t vote yes on a DHS bill that doesn’t strike the executive orders, leaders have to turn to Democrats to keep the department flush with cash? And what would happen on the left if the president accepts the Republicans’ terms on immigration in exchange for DHS money?
This is quite a dare.
It’s reminiscent of Evel Knievel, popping a few wheelies and then trying to jump a cavalcade of Greyhound buses.
During his career, Knievel suffered a crushed pelvis, bruised kidneys, multiple broken arms, legs and ribs. 433 broken bones in all. And if someone doesn’t hit the landing on this DHS/immigration dare, there are going to be a lot of fractured bones littering the streets of Washington come late February.