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GOP moderates failing put-up-or-shut-up challenge

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)Associated Press

The government shutdown could end immediately if the House passed a temporary spending measure, already approved by the Senate, with no extraneous policies or strings attached. And as Rachel explained last night, plenty of House Republicans are already on record saying they support such a bill, making this a bipartisan solution.

But this morning, a funny thing started happening. Some of the so-called GOP "moderates" decided they might be better off flip-flopping.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) supported a clean bill, but reversed course this morning. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) was on record backing this resolution, but he too switched sides. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who's been so critical of his party's radical wing that he compared Republican extremists to "lemmings with suicide vests," even started lying about his support for a clean CR.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is denying that he ever endorsed the idea of passing a "clean" funding bill -- or one without strings attached -- to keep the government running. But he did.

On Monday, Nunes' office asked The Washington Post to remove the congressman's name from their list of House Republicans who have called for passing a clean continuing resolution to end the government shutdown. Nunes had been on the paper's list since last week, and he's still included in The Huffington Post's tally. The move by Nunes' office comes a few days after the congressman fumed to conservative outlet Newsmax that a certain "left-wing publication" had incorrectly reported that he said he would back a clean funding bill.

"The last thing I would do is work with [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi," Nunes told Newsmax. He suggested that "someone took some comments I made and then made up a conclusion."

The problem, of course, is that the Huffington Post has a recording of Nunes backing a clean spending bill for the federal government.

And while Nunes' dishonesty reflects poorly on him personally, it also helps represent a larger problem in Republican politics -- "moderates" have disappeared, and when it starts to look like they might reappear, they prove to be completely useless.

To be sure, we've heard from quite a few of these alleged "moderates" lately, and they're none too pleased by the radicalization of their party. They don't like the fact that Republicans shut down the government; they don't want to see Republicans force the nation into default; and they don't want the nonsense to continue.

Sounds great, right? It would be, except there's no follow through. Will the GOP "moderates" sign a discharge petition to end the shutdown? No. Will they vote with Democrats against the various CR schemes cooked up by the far-right? No. Will they work with Dems on the "previous question" tactic? No. Will they commit to supporting a clean resolution? At first yes, but now no.

In Congress, what's the practical difference between a Republican "moderate" and Republican extremist? There isn't one.

Josh Barro had this item yesterday, which rings true.

Our government is a disaster because of a small group of Republicans in the House of Representatives. I'm not talking about the group of Republicans you might think.

Yes, there are 30 to 50 arch conservatives in the House who have been insistent they won't reopen the government without putting a major dent in Obamacare. These people are not the key problem. They are only relevant because so-called "reasonable" or "realistic" Republicans allow them to be.

The most dangerous group in Congress is moderate Republicans, many from the northeast, who could reopen the government and break extremists' grip on their caucus' agenda, but choose not to.

It's kind of silly to describe these members as "moderates" in the first place, which is why I keep putting the word in quotes, because there's really nothing centrist about their ideology, their proposals, their temperament, or their voting record. They don't even use the label to describe themselves -- as my colleague Anthony Terrell noticed, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) was on "Fox News Sunday," and when host Chris Wallace used the "m" word, the congressman knocked it down.

"I don't consider myself a moderate," King said. "I'm a Reagan conservative."

Roughly speaking, we're looking at a House Republican caucus with (1) far-right extremists who believe in governing through extortion; (2) politically impotent leaders who can't get their own bills passed; and (3) conservatives who complain about the other two groups, but who vote the same way.