John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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The Great Distraction

Posted on February 24, 2015
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(This originally appeared in The Hill)

People ask me how the 2016 presidential election will impact the legislative agenda this year.

My answer: Rudy Giuliani.

The former New York mayor is not even running for president (been there, done that). But he was quoted at a private fundraiser for Scott Walker — who is thinking about throwing his hat in the ring — saying that Barack Obama doesn’t truly love America. 

Because this was a fundraiser for the Wisconsin governor, he of course was accused of not sufficiently condemning Giuliani’s remarks. Walker, who has been seen as the front-runner in Iowa, had also just come off a trip to London, where he decided not to respond to a British reporter who asked if he believed in evolution, which caused another media firestorm.

Walker then dodged another question about President Obama’s religious faith, saying he didn’t know if the president was a Christian. That, of course, caused yet another media firestorm.

In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security is slated to close down at the end of the week. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or the Levant, as the president is calling the terrorist group) is gaining strength in the Middle East. In boardrooms across the country, there are active discussions about moving operations and headquarters out of country because of America’s ridiculously high corporate tax rates. The president’s executive order on immigration is being challenged by a federal judge and could be invalidated, and a critically important piece of his poorly drafted healthcare law could be similarly be declared invalid.

But instead, the media is fixated on Rudy Giuliani and his comments at a Scott Walker fundraiser.

No offense to the former New York mayor, but who cares what he thinks about Obama? And why does this brouhaha have an impact on the legislative agenda?

Well, first of all, it’s a distraction. With the limited attention span of the American people and the media, when they focus their time on irrelevant issues — such as Giuliani’s opinions on Obama’s love of country — they don’t focus on issues that actually matter to running the country.

Second, it hurts the GOP brand. When a leading Republican impugns the integrity of the president in such a dramatic way at a fundraiser for another leading Republican, it has an impact on all Republicans, who are forced to scramble in response.

Third, it needlessly polarizes the country, making it harder for legislators to come together to cut deals. (Of course, there is a healthy chunk of the Republican base that agrees with Giuliani and with Walker, and they are the constituents who are most likely to discourage their legislators from cooperating with the president.)

It has long been assumed that the three senators who double as 2016 candidates (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio) would complicate GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to run the upper chamber with their presidential ambitions.

But that really hasn’t been the case thus far.

Rubio has been a team player and recently made perfectly rational comments about the need to keep the Department of Homeland Security open. Paul has been off doing his own thing, trying to broaden the base of the party by focusing on criminal justice reform and other issues that haven’t had much of an impact on the current operations of the Senate. Cruz, of course, being Ted Cruz, continues to rile up the base, but not in any way that has significantly impacted the legislative agenda.

The 2016 election is already upon us and it is already proving to be a huge distraction for the newly ascendant Republican Congress. Just ask Rudy Giuliani.