When House Speaker John Boehner needed the votes to do the responsible thing Tuesday — to actually govern and get basic, rudimentary things done rather than showboat for the talk-radio crowd — he once again had to turn to his friends on the Democratic side of the aisle.
This time, it came on passage of a controversial “clean” bill needed to keep the Department of Homeland Security open and operational. Using the hoopla of the Netanyahu speech as cover, Boehner quietly pushed the needed legislation through the House Tuesday evening by a vote of 257-167, ending a so-called “crisis”.
Every single one of those 167 “no” votes came from Boehner’s own caucus, from Republicans who preferred to string out their doomed, hapless protest against President Obama regardless of what it might cost the country. And if this is beginning to seem a bit too familiar, it should. It’s a scenario that has played itself out time and again in the last few years.
It has happened on debt-ceiling votes needed to save the country from defaulting on its debt. It has happened on funding bills needed to keep the government operational. It has happened on critical financial-rescue bills needed to save the economy from utter collapse, and it has even happened on disaster-relief bills needed to help millions of Americans devastated by a major hurricane or other natural calamity.
In each case, the Republican majority has been willing, even eager, to wreak considerable damage on the country to make an ideological point. In each case, they have forced GOP leadership to ask Democrats to act as the adults in the room and pass bills that everyone knew needed to be passed.
But here’s how deep the GOP weakness for showmanship over substance really goes. If those 167 Republicans who voted against Homeland Security funding were really angry at Boehner for allowing Tuesday’s vote and ending the standoff, they could drop the pretense and replace him. After all, they do represent more than two-thirds of the GOP caucus. If they really, really wanted the showdown with Obama that they all proclaim to the base that they really really want, they could insist on getting it.
But the truth is, they don’t “really really want it”. To the contrary, the current situation suits them just fine. With Democrats willing to act as the adults in the room, and with Boehner willing to intervene when necessary, House Republicans have it sweet. They are free to preen and posture in all their ideological purity without ever having to face the consequences. If they are political geldings in such situations, it is because they prefer to be geldings, and because other, stronger people will do the hard work of keeping this country at least somewhat functional.