GOP Disarray Hands Democrats a Big Midterm Gift

Image: John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 31, 2014, for final votes as Congress rushes for the doors and a five-week summer recess. The institutional split of a Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate has added up to inaction, especially in a midterm election year with control of the Senate at stake. Lawmakers have struggled to compromise on a handful of bills to deal with the nation's pressing problems amid overwhelming partisanship. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)AP

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Another stunning legislative embarrassment for House Republicans has handed Democrats a mighty big talking point over the next three months until the midterm elections: The GOP is incapable -- if not unwilling -- to govern, they will argue. “Republicans,” you’re going to hear Democrats say, “can’t even agree how to respond to a serious crisis on our borders. But where they do agree is launching a partisan lawsuit against the president of the United States. That’s your ‘Do-Nothing’ Republican Party.” Of course, Republicans have powerful talking points of their own and have had them for months. “The world is on fire!” “Obama and Obamacare are unpopular!” “It’s time to boot Harry Reid out of being Senate majority leader!” Indeed, when you think about it, the past month has been a rough stretch for Democrats. President Obama’s approval rating is stuck in the low 40s (high 30s in some key Senate swing states), and the dominant news stories have been violence and instability around the globe. But the past 48 hours might have been even worse for Republicans -- suing the president for taking executive action, not passing legislation to provide relief at the border, and then saying that there are executive actions Obama should be taking on the border. (Huh?) As even Charles Krauthammer said on Fox, “It is ridiculous to sue the president on a Wednesday because he oversteps the law … and then on a Thursday say that he should overstep the law.” Here’s the deal: If Democrats hold serve in November (retain control of the Senate, minimize losses or even pick up seats in the House), we’ll all look back on the last two days as the week the GOP blew it.

Why it could resonate into the fall

In other words, Democrats now have something fresh to run against. And you couldn’t necessarily say that on July 1. Yes, there was the government shutdown last fall. But that was a year ago -- and it got immediately overshadowed by the months-long story about HealthCare.Gov’s failure (an example of the Obama’s administration own difficulty in governing). But what’s significant about yesterday’s legislative embarrassment for Republicans is that 1) it comes just three months before the midterm elections, and 2) it came a day after the House, in a partisan vote, moved to sue the president. That’s why Democrats have a chance to exploit this -- that is, of course, until we see the next Democratic misstep or national/international crisis.

A dysfunctional House -- and a dysfunctional Congress

Moving from a look at the upcoming elections to examining Capitol Hill itself, Washington might be broken right now, but your House of Representatives is in shambles, even making the gridlocked Harry Reid-led Senate seem more functional (though it also couldn’t pass its own border bill yesterday). Yesterday’s inability for Republicans to get 218 votes on a border-relief bill was just the latest example of House Speaker John Boehner’s and his leadership team’s inability to manage the House GOP caucus. If you’re not going to pursue legislation that will get significant Democratic support, then you need to get nearly all House Republicans to support it. But that didn’t happen. Yet let’s also not ignore the games that Democrats played here: Senate Majority Leader Reid was saying that the House border bill could be a conference vehicle to pass comprehensive immigration reform. And that comes as the Senate itself was unable to move its own border-relief bill (Republicans, joined by a couple of Democrats, voted to block it last night.) A final note here: We’ve been saying it for a while, but immigration reform’s chances are really, really, really dead in this Congress. Folks, this was a House bill to give the administration the ability to DEPORT these undocumented children, and the House couldn’t even pass that.

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Do-over time for House Republicans

All of that said, House Republicans will meet at 9:00 am ET for another try at passing a border-relief measure, because they realize they HAVE to do something. “I think at the end of the day we’re going to end up getting to a majority and get this thing passed,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) told the New York Times. “We’re not going to leave here until this is done.” A House GOP aide adds to First Read: “Oh, I think we'll get there. It just ain't pretty.” But the price for getting the votes today -- going on the record wanting to repeal the president’s DACA executive action or trying to prevent him from expanding it -- only will exasperate the GOP’s problems with Latinos in the long term. It’s your political rock and a hard place.

Proof that the CIA spied on Senate computers

Had it not been for yesterday’s legislative debacle on Capitol Hill, this could have been the BIG political story (and one that fully embarrasses the Obama administration): We got proof that the CIA was indeed spying on Senate computers regarding the Senate’s investigation into the Bush era’s interrogation techniques. And it came after CIA head John Brennan told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell back in March that it wasn’t the case. “The facts will come out. But let me assure you that the CIA in no way was spying.” Umm, that has turned out to be incorrect. And Brennan has apologized to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). But this is a HUGE blow to the CIA and Brennan. If the CIA’s reputation was in tatters before, it’s now even worse. And there are calls -- from Democratic senators, from liberal writers -- for Brennan to resign. It’s worth noting that President Obama and Brennan are extremely close, so a firing or resignation might not be in the immediate cards. But folks are looking for accountability, and that ultimately falls on the president.

July jobs report

Economy adds 209,000 jobs, unemployment rate bumps up to 6.2%: Meanwhile, there’s yet ANOTHER solid jobs report, signaling that the labor market and overall economy is beginning to pick up steam. The AP: “U.S. employers extended this year's hiring surge into July by adding a solid 209,000 jobs. It was the sixth straight month of job growth above 200,000, evidence that businesses are shedding the caution that had marked the 5-year-old economic recovery. The unemployment rate ticked up to 6.2 percent from 6.1 percent as more Americans started looking for work

Fancy Farm this weekend

It’s going to be a busy political weekend, with Fancy Farm in Kentucky. The Louisville Courier-Journal sets the stage of this annual political event in the Bluegrass State: “[Mitch] McConnell and [Alison] Grimes are the main attractions and are locked in a tight race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate. It's likely to be one of the few times the two candidates will appear on the same stage. Grimes and the six other Democrats speaking, including Gov. Steve Beshear, are expected to blast McConnell, 72, and his five terms in office and criticize votes and statements he has made on everything from women's issues to job creation. McConnell and the five other Republicans speaking will almost certainly blast Grimes, 35, Kentucky's secretary of state, as too young and ill-prepared and too beholden to unpopular national Democrats — President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.”

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