When they take over full power in the Senate within a couple of months, the Republicans will have many choices available to them. They will have their complete attention focused on 2016, which has been the point all along, to put a Republican in the White House. One stance would be to simply oppose everything Obama stands for and wait for the presidential year. Another option would be to appear to be cooperative, to make every visible effort to look like they are trying hard to work with the president.
Up to a point, they probably will take the second option. Except for the government shutdown, much of the public doesn’t specifically blame the Republicans for the “mess in Washington” or the “partisan bickering” that has characterized the last four years. If the public did blame the Republicans, then they would not have voted in such large numbers to put them in the Senate nor to increase their numbers in the House, as they did on election day. If the Republicans try the same strategy of “no deals, ever” with this White House, they risk turning attention to themselves and making the part the issue in the presidential election year.
At the start, there will be a lot of noises about “cooperation” or getting along with Obama “where we can” or where his policies don’t “harm the American people” (everyone on Capitol Hill, you see, is an expert in what the American people want and they presume to speak for us at every turn). The Republicans will want to appear to be thoughtful and generous while sending Obama bills that they know he will never sign and be forced to veto.
The basic problem is that the public doesn’t have the time or the inclination to follow the details. So, if they make a big show out of cooperation and Obama winds up in a constant battle with them anyway, the assumption would be that Obama and his party are, once again!, at fault.
Obama and his White House team could make this process a lot more productive by being firm and forthright about what they want and what they will trade to get it. They are not likely to be either firm or forthright and the probability is that we will be back in another deep mess within a matter of months. There is a chance, however, that the Republicans see a real opportunity in keeping things running smoothly now, without a lot of drama, and will sit out major battles over the next two years waiting to capture the big prize in 2016.
One sign that the Republicans are at least temporarily adopting the “play nice” strategy would be the removal of the debt ceiling and the so called fiscal cliff from their threatboard on Obama. The leadership is likely to tell the more hothead, junior members this: Look, we’ve got bigger fish to fry now. By removing the constant threat of government shutdown or failure to pay our bills, they would come off as looking like people who intend to participate in governing, not just be disruptive for its own sake. No more threats of 11th hour, self created crisis, in other words. The overall goal of such a strategy will be to give the voters the impression of just how well the government will work if they are fully in charge, Congress and the White House. The fact that the House Republicans created the original mess would be, ah, forgotten.
The opposite possibility is to continue the same kinds of fruitless confrontations we have seen over the last four years. If the Republicans choose that path, then impeachment will likely follow, although, just as with Clinton, it won’t succeed in removing Obama from office, unless some evidence of his “tyranny” could be produced. Instead, the Republicans seem likely to conclude that they have enough going for them heading toward 2016 that they will want to, at least, pretend to be nice and cooperative, hoping the voters will then blame the Democrats for every failure of the last eight years.
Doug Terry, Nov. 5, 2014