Game Change Or More of the Same?
By John Feehery
Here are some remarks I made to NABPAC that I thought I would share with you.
It was a status quo election.
Or was it?
The players all seem exactly the same. Barack Obama. John Boehner. Harry Reid. Mitch McConnell. Nancy Pelosi.
The only change in any top leadership position was John Cornyn taking over from Jon Kyl as the Republican Whip.
Power in Washington is a game of perception.
Who has it ? Who doesn’t? Who can keep his troops in line and who can’t?
Power slowly recedes from a second term President.
Second terms are never pretty.
Richard Nixon resigned in his second term. Ronald Reagan almost got impeached for Iran-Contra. Bill Clinton did get impeached. George Bush would have gotten impeached if John Conyers had anything to do with it.
A President in his second term inevitably does two things. First, he over-reads his mandate. Think George Bush and his use of political capital. He believed that he could reform Social Security, on his own. That didn’t work very well for him.
Second, a President lets his guard down. He is not running for reelection, so what does he care. And when you let your guard down, mistakes happen.
You also get the second team in a second term. The truly talented politicians in an administration leave to do something else, while the hangers-on hang on.
A President gets tired in the second term. Gets tired of living in a bubble. Gets tired of putting up with crap from the Congress. Gets tired of all the media questions.
Congress can sense when a President is losing power. And Congress can wait out a President.
Four years is a long time for a President. It is two-thirds of a term for a Senator. And for a member of Congress who has been there for twenty-four years, four years is nothing.
Members of the Congress and of the Senate don’t work for the President. That is especially true in a second term. A President can only invite a Congressman to Oval Office so many times or take him on a trip on Air Force One.
Of course, this President already has non-existent relationships with most members of Congress, so trying to become buddy-buddy now is already too late.
So, the Congress is going to do what the Congress is going to do to protect its own prerogatives.
And for John Boehner and Harry Reid, their number one perogative is to protect their majorities.
Absent a wave election, House Republicans are pretty safe, although in this business you never know.
They have a new NRCC chairman, but they will be doing the same things. Adequately funding their guys, enjoying their relatively safe seats, protecting their members.
For Harry Reid, he also has to protect his majority and for him, that might be more difficult.
A word on Reid. I thought we had him two years ago and he escaped his noose. I thought we would knock him out from his perch this last election, and once again, he escaped.
Reid hasn’t completely recovered from the 2010 election. His wife is sick and he is tired. But he is a battler. And he has been leader for a long time. So we will see if he decides to stick it out as leader or not. It is a open question.
Nobody will challenge him. Dick Durbin isn’t strong enough. Chuck Schumer is strong enough, but also in a stranger Schumer kind of way, he is also deferential to his leader.
The Senate will be an ideological circus. Ted Cruz is the latest Tea Party representative and it will be fun to see how he does battle with Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren.
The Senate Democrats are going to be much more liberal and the Senate Republicans are going to be much more conservative.
McConnell, as has been noted, will have to protect his right flank as he is in cycle. He has smartly hired Rand Paul’s campaign guy in the hopes that some of that Tea Party magic will rub off on him.
But Rand Paul is going to take McConnell to places he hasn’t been before. Legalize Marijuana? Downsize the military? Will see how Mitch likes that.
Jim DeMint is not the threat he once was. He is probably going to join Paul in a run for President. How he does that from his new perch as ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee is beyond me, but in any event, he is going to stick to his term limits pledge. And there is nothing more degrading from a power perspective than term limits.
Will the Senate get anything done?
I bet you they do.
Marco Rubio is going to push for immigration reform. Sure, he is Cuban, but also represents Florida, and if you haven’t noticed, the Sunshine State is a melting pot.
I betcha that Rubio and Cruz join together to get something done on immigration in the Senate. Lindsey Graham, Rob Portman, John McCain will help.
Conditions are right in the Senate to get tax and entitlement reform done.
Max Baucus is in cycle and Orin Hatch is not in cycle. Baucus will want to appear more moderate and Hatch can shed his tea party clothing.
So, on those two big issues, I see some possible progress.
Turning to the House, John Boehner has two things going for him. His leadership team is completely behind him. And any potential tea party rivals just don’t have the gravitas to challenge his authority.
Eric Cantor is fully on board with Team Boehner. Barry Jackson and Brad Dayspring have left, and Steve Stombres and Mike Sommers have an excellent working relationship.
Cantor understands that the path to the Speakership does not come by stepping over John Boehner’s bruised body.
Boehner and his team won a pretty big victory by beating Tom Price with Cathy McMorris Rogers in the race for Chairman. That was a message that the Conference as a whole has read the tea leaves.
The most formidable House conservative, Mike Pence, left to become Governor of Indiana. The second most formidable one, Jeb Hensarling, is now the Chairman of Financial Services, and he will have his hands full doing battle with Maxine Waters.
Boehner has his people installed in key places, like Fred Upton at Energy and Commerce and Dave Camp at Ways and Means. These guys are part of Team Boehner, and in his second term as Speaker, he seems to have the ability to control his caucus, far more than in the last Congress.
Of the freshman, the best are Richard Hudson, Tom Cotton and Ann Wagner, all of whom are pragmatic conservatives who understand that are of power politics.
House Democrats are stunted.
Nancy Pelosi’s decision to stay put might have been a boon to liberals and to the President, but it did nothing for a Caucus that is run by a bunch of old people. Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn are all in their 70’s, but that 70’s show is quite ready to be canceled as of yet.
House Democrats are more diverse, more liberal and more irrelevant than ever. I can’t see Reid or Boehner taking any Pelosi demands seriously, and my guess is that she will be left out of the conversations.
Will these power players take us over the fiscal cliff? Will Dave Camp be able to get tax reform done? How will this new Committee on Health work? Can the House pass comprehensive immigration reform, now that Lamar Smith has moved over to Science and Bob Goodlatte is taking over the help of the Judiciary Committee?
All good questions. My guess is that the House Republicans will want to get some stuff done to show that they can govern. After all, they have to face the voters again in less than 24 months.