You remember the headlines from back in November. The GOP was back, the public has spoken, it was a landslide victory, a political upheaval of Shakespearean proportions! I didn’t believe it at the time since the non presidential party has, with one exception, always taken control of the house and the senate during the 6 year mid-term and the results of the individual ballot measures(medical marijuana, marriage equality, and raising the minimum wage) almost all went democrat during this ‘Red Wedding’ election.
The 114th congress took their posts on January 6th. How have these first three weeks gone?
Things started off on a sour note with the reelection on the Speaker of the House John Boehner. Of people who voted Republican in 2014, 60% wanted someone other than Boehner as the Speaker and only 25% actively wanted him reelected. When the vote happened, 25 Republican Congressman didn’t vote for him to take the position for his third term. That is the largest opposition to a sitting Speaker in the modern era. Daniel Webster of Florida got the second most votes with 12 of the 25 dissenters and the remaining 13 were split among 8 other nominees.
Boehner did get reelected though, and the votes would be little more than a historical footnote if the tidal wave of conservative thought and unity that the midterms were supposed to usher in materialized. To judge that though we have to look at the three biggest bills to go through the house to start the session.
In the first seven days of the legislative new year, congress introduced six anti-abortion bills. If you’d like to read about each in a little detail you can find them outlined here. As an aside, I particularly think the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act which would, “prohibit discrimination against the unborn child on the basis of sex or gender, and for other purposes,” deserves discussion but that’s for another post. The headline grabber of the six is without a doubt the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks. Exceptions are made in the case of rape(if the woman has reported it to the police and initiated legal proceedings), in the case of incest(only if the woman is under 18), and if there is imminent threat to the woman’s life.
This bill had been introduced with the intention of voting on it on the 22nd which was the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, but that vote never came to pass almost entirely because of Republican opposition.
Rep. Patrick Meehan R-Pa.(and former federal prosecutor) expressed concerns on forcing rape victims to, “come forward and relive the issue through having to further testify. I wanted that to be considered in everybody’s thinking.”
Rep. Carlos Curbelo R-Fla. also on the reporting restriction, “I’m certainly not going to ever put myself in a position where I’m telling any woman whether their account of a rape is valid or not,”
The bill was replaced with a vote on continuing to prevent tax dollars from being spent on abortions, which is a law that has been on the books since the mid 70s so a vote to renew the Hyde amendment is almost entirely for show. Pulling a switch on the first big vote of the session, especially when it’s an issue many consider a central plank of the party platform, shows little direction on the part of the Republican leadership.
What about border security and immigration reform though? Sure the culture war regarding abortion and a woman’s right to choose have been hazardous places for the GOP to tread recently, but this country still views the GOP as the party of defense and homeland security.
The vote on the $10 billion funding bill, which has been criticized by the Secretary of Homeland Security, was scheduled for this Wednesday the 28th, but has been sidelined due to disputes inside the caucus. Rep. Mo Brooks R-Ala had scathing words to say about the bill including, “It is an effort to convince the American people that we are doing something substantive to secure the border when in fact nothing substantive is being done,” and going on to call the bill, “A show horse, not a work horse.” Brooks and others want to take more direct shots at the president’s immigration reform as of late so don’t want to pass a bill that lacks, what they feel, is any sort of punch.
After the decision to cancel the vote for the bill, Rep. Michael McCaul R-Tex, who introduced the legislation, asked, “For God’s sakes, if we can’t unite around border security what can we unite around?”
The really troubling thing isn’t just the lack of unity, it’s the lack of consensus on how the unity is lacking. The anti-abortion bill was stopped because it went too far. The border security bill was stopped because it didn’t go far enough. Add in there were at least five ‘official’ responses to the state of the union last week and it is clear that the Republican party either has a serious leadership vacuum or someone on capital hill is inhaling really deeply.
Meanwhile in the new Republican controlled Senate, the Keystone XL pipeline bill has been blocked by the Democrats. So one of the few pieces of legislation the House can actually agree on still won’t see the president’s desk. A president who has an approval rating that just jumped back up above 50% for the first time in two years.
Rep. Charlie Dent R-Pa. summed up the opening weeks of congress with, “Week one, we had a speaker election that didn’t go the way that a lot of us wanted it to. Week two, we were debating deporting children, and again, not a conversation a lot of us wanted to have then. And week three, we’re now debating rape and abortion — again, an issue that most of us didn’t campaign on or really wanted to engage on at this time. And I just can’t wait for week four.”
Next week? We have at least two more years to watch and see if this House, which is clearly divided against itself, will end up standing for anything.
As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.