I was pleased to see Howard Kurtz respond to my post on why President Obama shouldn’t fear a GOP Senate, even as he thinks I’m “all wrong.”
An all-Republican Congress can make life miserable for Obama and, by extension, for Hillary Clinton if she runs. The notion that the GOP will suddenly function as a cooperative partner totally underestimates the poisonous atmosphere in Washington.
Nowhere in my post did I suggest that the GOP would “suddenly function as a cooperative partner.” I made a narrowly focused prediction that “things may actually improve slightly”—most likely on the issue of immigration, concerning which Kurtz argues:
Republicans are highly unlikely to be passing immigration reform in 2015 even if they win the midterms. The base hates it, and more important, we’ll be in the opening innings of a presidential campaign in which the party’s contenders will be pulled to the right, as Mitt Romney (he of “self-deportation”) was in 2012.
Kurtz here is just projecting the status quo into the indefinite future. Yes, the base “hates” the idea of amnesty. But guess what? 1) The base cannot deliver a Republican president in 2016. 2) The Romney campaign sucked; and the GOP establishment is not anxious to repeat its mistakes (the “self-deportation” rhetoric was a particularly and self-evidently disastrous mistake). This is why I believe there’s at least a sliver of a chance of compromise over the issue. With unified control of Congress, the GOP will very likely be able to present to Obama a bill with tough enforcement measures and no path to citizenship. It will be able to declare victory on a major issue on its own terms, not the Democrats’, and it will have laid the groundwork for a campaign that courts Latinos afresh. And as I noted in my original post, Obama will have little choice but to accept whatever cards the GOP deals him on immigration.
Kurtz takes, issue, too with my argument that “Republican Congress” will make for juicy target for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign: “Two years of a Republican Congress won’t be much of a 2016 target, if things aren’t going well, compared to eight years of the Obama administration. As a bogeyman, John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich.” Well, yeah, true. But I never made such a comparison. The Republican nominee will run against Obama’s eight years no matter which party controls the Senate. And Hillary won’t need a neo-Newt bogeyman. She will instead sow fear of unified Republican control of the federal government. Of a return to the mismanagement of the Bush years. Of unchecked power.
Kurtz’s final point:
If they control the Senate machinery, Republicans will be able to launch twice as many investigations as they can now by holding just the House. They will be able to block Obama nominees, creating a sense of dysfunction. They will be able to bring bills to the floor, while Harry Reid watches helplessly, solely for the purpose of forcing Democrats to cast politically dangerous votes that can be used in attack ads. They can cut the budget in the name of deficit reduction. They may even be able to force Obama to veto legislation that suits their purposes. In short, the White House will lose the bulwark of a Senate that ensures all conservative legislation dies in the House.
I will concede that a Republican Senate could make life for Obama marginally worse than the carnival barker Darrell Issa already has. But the rest of the paragraph is almost adorable. “They will be to block Obama nominees, creating a sense of dysfunction [emphasis mine].” No kidding? I’d say Obama is fairly used to that kind of thing by now. “They can cut the budget in the name of deficit deduction.” You don’t say? And good luck getting legislation to the floor. There’s this thing in the Senate about invoking cloture. I hear it’s really difficult to do lately. And about “conservative legislation dying in the House”: I was around in the late 1990s when complaints from House Republicans about their lamentably milquetoast brethren in the Senate were routine and vociferous. Such may be the case again in 2015. With a Republican Senate, “conservative legislation” won’t die in the House. It will die instead in conference.
Kurtz’s scenario of Republicans’ eliciting embarrassing vetoes on show-me bills (“legislation that suits their purposes”) is outdated. Obama’s not running again. There will be no painful vetoes for him—only gleefully satisfying ones. And if, as a consequence, Hillary needs to run to Obama’s right because of something he vetoes, so much the better for her. If legislation that’s sufficiently moderate does miraculously make its way to his desk—most likely, and probably exclusively, an immigration bill—he will sign it.
That’s all I’m saying. There will be no “Kumbaya” around a campfire.