“The idea of letting this administration define border security is like letting Bill Clinton define sexual relations.”
-- Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., talking to Politico
Ah, that magic moment for members of Congress between when the plane lifts off of the runway at Reagan National and when they have to start bumping and buzzing with constituents at the baggage carrousel back home.
In that time between worlds today, lawmakers will have a lot to think about. Their constituents are unhappy. So are their party leaders in Washington. And there doesn’t seem that there’s much to be done about it.
As their flight (quite possibly still in operation because of their own intervention after small airport subsidies were threatened in the “sequestration” slap fight) climbs up out of the Washington heat congressmen and senators can be very glad to have 10 days or so away from this place.
But is what awaits them back in real America any better?
A Democrat heading back to Detroit or Philadelphia can be happy that liberals won big on gay marriage this week (even though black voters aren’t exactly thrilled). The Senate hacked up an immigration bill that after six months of effort amounts to little more than an invitation to further aggravation as it heads to the House. Big-city Democrats can also face the public armed with the talking point that President Obama has laid down a big marker on shutting down the coal industry for good, though this will be of dubious value to Democrats in rural or swing districts.
But Democrats also know that their constituents are plenty unhappy with the discovery that the Democratic president who ran as a civil libertarian has turned out to be the biggest domestic spy guy in history. And while the constituents in bright blue districts certainly are forgiving when it comes to the exposure of failings at the IRS, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Justice, there is not a sense that Obama 2.0 is running smoothly.
When incompetence is the best defense, even one’s supporters tend to lose heart.
Liberals are demanding President Obama return to his “bold” approach of the first weeks of this year, there’s not much chance of that. This is an interesting predicament for Team Obama. Democratic partisans believe the administration talking points that there are no scandals, which is helpful in getting that message out to a broader audience and muting public frustrations with an administration staggering and stumbling from one damaging disclosure to the next.
But if a liberal Democrat believes there are no scandals, then why shouldn’t Obama be swashbuckling his way through Washington, unafraid of those scurvy Republicans? Obama ought to be keel-hauling Rep. Darrell Issa, oughtn’t he? Instead, the administration is slow walking and obfuscating. If it’s all a fraud, where’s the outrage?
What Team Obama can’t say is that they’ve got a tremendous lot of fat in the fire these days. Consider that retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, dubbed Obama’s “favorite general” for his views on the Afghan war and other policies, is the target of a leak investigation, and not necessarily one that was initiated by Eric Holder’s team in Washington.
Cartwright is under scrutiny for one of the leaks favorable to the president that emerged in the heat of last year’s election. Things could get very icky.
While the president’s credibility overall has taken a hit, the members of his base are ready to believe the best. When they believe the best, though, they retain unreasonable expectations. Why is Obama ducking and hunkering, they wonder. If it’s not because of real danger – he said so, after all – it must be because he’s wimpy.
Republicans, meanwhile, are getting ready for an even unhappier tangle with their constituents. While they’re waving from a convertible in their hometown Independence Day parade, their conservative constituents will be wondering how the red team got backed into a corner on immigration by a scandal-sick president, why same-sex marriage leaped forward and how there have yet to be consequences for the serious abuses and lapses in the administration.
Most Senate Republicans will have their hands full explaining why the immigration bill passed the upper chamber. House Republicans will meanwhile be getting a snoot full about why it had better never become law.
But what all the constituents, left, right and center, probably can’t understand is that there’s a new storm brewing back in Washington that will overpower almost everything else: When lawmakers get back to work, it will be time to start the government shutdown clocks again.
Whatever liberals say about pressure on House Republicans to legalize illegal immigrants and whatever conservatives say about focusing their fire on Holder and other key figures in the Obama scandals, the rest of the summer will be increasingly consumed by budget battles.
Washington has not produced a full-year spending plan since 2007, and it’s also getting to be time for another debt-ceiling bump. The fight is going to be hellacious. Add in the fact that by the coincidence of the federal fiscal year, it’s also getting to be time for Obama’s 2010 health law to go into effect and the second half of the year looks to be rougher than the first.
Lawmakers had better make the most of their flights home. What awaits them there and back here in Washington promises plenty of turbulence.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“You have [Acting IRS Director Danny] Werfel up there who speaks in word salad. The guy's a master. If he showed up in the ER he would be considered psychotic or disturbed. He speaks but there is nothing -- not an ounce of meaning out of it. But he's excellent in doing it. He's practiced.”
-- 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.