Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio

WASHINGTON – Why won’t Republican leadership in Congress fight President Obama?

It’s the question that frustrates 75 percent of GOP voters and an issue that has likely helped Donald Trump skyrocket in the polls.

Now, WND has obtained a revealing look into the thought process of the congressional Republican elite during a candid email exchange with a Senate leadership aide.

It showed why GOP leadership is apparently so reluctant to effectively confront Obama on such key issues as defunding executive amnesty, Obamacare and Planned Parenthood.

Majority Whip, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

Majority Whip, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

The dialogue also revealed why Republican leadership employs a strategy of confronting the president with words, but has expressed a reluctance to take risks and to use perhaps the only potent tool in lawmakers’ arsenal: the power of the purse.

It was not a confrontational exchange but one of substance. The Senate aide was gracious enough to take the time to spell out GOP leadership’s position clearly and thoughtfully. WND responded with what it believed to be the views of the GOP party base.

These are the key points to arise from the dialogue:

  • GOP leaders appear to be truly afraid of the extremist label and are sensitive about their image.
  • They appear mortified by the notion of another government shutdown.
  • They believe the 2013 shutdown hurt the party even though the GOP went on to a landslide win at the polls in 2014.
  • It seems they want to avoid actual confrontation and prefer to go on record as opposed to Obama.

Perhaps the most revealing element of the exchange: When GOP leaders say they will use all means at their disposal to confront Obama, they do not mean all means.

That became clear after the leadership aide asserted to WND, “[W]e absolutely are using all our available means to confront the president,” but then dismissed the notion of using the power of the purse in the form of threatening a government shutdown, in this case, to defund Planned Parenthood.

The following is a summary of the exchange.

WND sent an email to a member of GOP leadership, asking:

  • Doesn’t a majority of GOP lawmakers want a showdown over defunding Planned Parenthood? Isn’t leadership defying the will of the party by not doing so?
  • Why fear a shutdown? Despite polls that showed the GOP getting the blame last time, the party stormed to a landslide victory in 2014.
  • On the other hand, since the election, the approval rating of GOP leadership has plummeted, specifically for not keeping campaign promises to stop the Obama agenda.
  • Would it not be in the GOP leadership’s own best interest, as well as that of the party and the American people, to at least try to confront the president with all available means?

The Senate leadership aide initially responded with an example of what leadership felt was “using all of our available means” – the July vote in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood.

The aide conceded it was a losing effort from the start because the GOP does not have a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes in the Senate. So, even though the bill got the 54 GOP votes, it was still doomed.

Conference Chair Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Conference Chair Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

Why did leadership consider it an effective tactic to call for a vote it knew it would lose?

“That vote allowed us to put the Democrats on the record for standing by Planned Parenthood,” said the aide.

WND responded by pointing out that leadership really did have another means at its disposal – the shutdown threat.

Shouldn’t the GOP at least retain that option?

WND also noted that, despite what popularity polls said, it appeared the 2013 shutdown actually helped the GOP at the ballot box in 2014 – after the party showed it was willing to fight for what it believed. Was that not so?

The aide replied, because the Senate was not “a majoritarian institution like the House,” the 60-voter threshold imposed limitations. The aide noted the value of that when the GOP was in the minority, allowing it to block Democratic proposals such as those favoring unions or imposing a carbon tax.

OK, but what about using the threat of a shutdown?

“As to the shutdown, I’m not sure I agree,” was the reply.

So, WND pressed on, asking if the threat of a shutdown was what was meant by those who advocate using “all available means.”

And, despite Senate rules, since Republicans still had majorities in Congress, wasn’t a shutdown the only way to enforce lawmakers’ power of the purse?

“I don’t think so,” came the response. “But the question is to what ends, right? And is that end achievable?”

Suggesting a shutdown would be fruitless because it could never force the president to budge, the aide was concerned the tactic would play into Democrats’ hands and allow them to win the war in the media.

“If we start from a basic understanding that the Democrats want us to shut down the government (look up what they’ve been saying about us for months, that we are extreme and want a shutdown) to blame us and are more than happy to do it to ‘defend’ Planned Parenthood, as they try to portray us as hating women …”

Policy Committee Chair Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo.

Policy Committee Chair Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo.

The aide continued, “My point is that they want us to shut down the government, and when your opponent wants you to do something, makes you think, right?”

The Democrats may believe a shutdown would help them, but it didn’t in the 2014 election, right?

The aide responded, “You think we wouldn’t take a hit if we shut down the government? Well, on that score, we’ll respectfully have to disagree. But I can assure you that we are working through different means of trying to get at Planned Parenthood. Believe me.”

WND acknowledged it was unlikely a shutdown would be effective in terms of defunding Planned Parenthood, but perhaps there would be another important tactical benefit.

There appeared to be just one real point of contention between leadership and conservatives over strategy: Would a shutdown not be effective in signaling to Republican voters that leadership was at least willing to put up a fight? Would it not boost GOP voters’ approval of Senate leadership?

WND asked the Senate leadership aide to comment on three points provided by an aide to a conservative senator:

  • The fight itself is worth it – the results are beneficial.
  • If we tell the American public the Democrats are prioritizing the shutting down of government over defunding Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, or executive amnesty, that in itself is worthwhile.
  • It sends the message to American people that we are on their side and fighting for the things they want.

The leadership aide responded, “The fight is worth having – and we are having it and will continue to fight it. And we’ll do it while keeping the government open.”

That clearly meant leadership was not willing to use all available means. And the aide made clear that was because leadership feared another shutdown would hurt Republicans.

blunt

Conference Vice Chair Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

Other Capitol Hill aides told WND that conservative lawmakers do not believe the 2013 shutdown hurt them, but what does hurt the party is not fighting the Obama agenda.

The polls back that up.

According to a Pew poll in May:

  • A full 75 percent of Republicans want GOP leaders to challenge Obama more often; just 15 percent say they are handling relations with the president about right and 7 percent say GOP leaders should go along with Obama more often.
  • Just 23 percent of Americans say congressional Republicans are keeping the promises they made during last fall’s campaign, while 65 percent say they are not.
  • Just 22 percent of Americans approve of the job performance of Republican congressional leaders.
  • Just 41 percent of Republicans approve of the job their party’s leaders in Congress are doing. By comparison, in April 2011, 60 percent of Republicans approved of GOP leaders’ job performance and in April 1995, 78 percent approved of GOP leadership’s policies and proposals.

Nonetheless, on Aug. 8, Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ruled out the possibility of using the threat of a government shutdown to defund Planned Parenthood, or to oppose any part of the Obama agenda.

And this week, he told television station WYMT in his home state of Kentucky: “The president made it very clear he is not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood,” which is embroiled in a scandal for apparently selling aborted baby parts.

McConnell’s strategy is evidently to wait and hope the next president is a Republican.

He called defunding Planned Parenthood “another issue that awaits a new president.”

Conservative lawmakers contend it does not matter if the current president does not sign bills opposing his agenda; what is important is to send those bills to the president so the American people know where Republicans stand and that they are willing to fight.

An aide to a leading Senate conservative emphasized these three points to WND:

  • GOP leadership warned that not only would we lose our chance of regaining the Senate but we would lose the House following the 2013 shutdown. Instead, we had a historic victory in the Senate and gained 12 seats in the House.
  • They said the shutdown distracted from the disastrous roll-out of Healthcare.gov. False, we talked about that for about 5 months.
  • No one senator can cause a shutdown. Blocking consideration of a bill requires at least 41 senators to vote against cloture.

In other words, most GOP senators favored confronting the president with all means available.

Leaving the question: Why won’t Republican leadership do the same?

The answer appears to lie in between the lines of the answers provided by the Senate leadership aide who was concerned about who would get the blame for another government shutdown.

Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth

 

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