On Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stood tough against questioning from “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace about the dispute over funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Rightly, the speaker said that if DHS funding expires, the blame is on Senate Democrats, not the House.
However, even as he receives justifiable praise from Jazz for his words, Boehner should recognize that he inadvertently walked into a trap set by Wallace, much of the mainstream and liberal media, and by moderate Republicans and Democrats.
Here is the relevant exchange, via Fox News:
WALLACE: Haven’t you and House Republicans put the GOP in a box with funding for the Department of Homeland Security about to run out and you are demanding changes to the president’s executive action on immigration that Senate Republicans say they can’t pass?
BOEHNER: Chris, the Constitution makes it pretty clear that the House has to do its work and the Senate has to do theirs. The House has acted to fund the department and to stop the president’s overreach when it comes to immigration and his executive orders.
Remember, Chris, the president said 22 times that he did not have the authority to do what he eventually did. And the Congress just can’t sit by and let the president defy the Constitution and defy his own oath of office.
And so, the House acted. Now, it’s time for the Senate to act.
WALLACE: I understand there’s two sides to the argument. Here’s the bottom line: the deadline is less than two weeks from now. And the fact is that you and Congress are going to be out on recess for the next week.
Can you promise the American people with the terror threat only growing that you’re not going to allow funding for the Department of Homeland Security to run out?
BOEHNER: The House has acted. We’ve done our job. Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.
WALLACE: But — I’ll ask it again —
BOEHNER: Chris, Chris, one more time — the House has done its job under the Constitution. It’s time for the Senate to do their job.
Listen, I’ve got a tough job here. So does Senator McConnell. But Senate Democrats are the ones standing in the way; they’re the ones jeopardizing funding. Why don’t they get on the bill and offer amendment, offer their ideas? Let’s see what the Senate can do.
WALLACE: And what if the Department of Homeland Security funding runs out?
BOEHNER: Well, then, Senate Democrats should to be blame. Very simply.
WALLACE: And you’re prepared to let that happen?
BOEHNER: Certainly. The House has acted. We’ve done our job.
Again, Boehner deserves praise for doing something he has rarely done in four years as Speaker: sticking to his guns on an important fiscal, national security, and constitutional issue.
Unfortunately, his last words fell into a trap that could undermine everything else that he said. As Jonah Goldberg noted on Twitter:
So when GOP holds up things in Dem-run senate, GOP is to blame. When Dems hold up things in GOP-run senate, GOP is to blame. I see a trend.
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) February 15, 2015
In saying he is “certainly” ready to let “Department of Homeland Security funding run out,” Boehner has given the Democratic Party an out. Traditionally viewed as weak on national security by the public, congressional Democrats and President Obama can point to this as evidence that Boehner is willing to endanger national security in order to win political points.
Additionally, it gives moderate Republicans in both chambers — many of whom have expressed concern over the funding battle — as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) a way to blame Boehner instead of Democrats for the minority part’s intransigence. The McConnell blame is already happening, as Wallace noted:
WALLACE: But the Senate, sir, respectfully, can’t act. They have 54 votes. They don’t have 60 votes. Republicans used the filibuster. Democrats are using it now.
Senate Republican Leader McConnell says this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: It’s clear we can’t go forward in the Senate, unless you all heard something I haven’t. The next move obviously is up to the House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: McConnell is saying the House has to pass something new they can actually get through the Senate.
BOEHNER: Senator McConnell’s done a great job as the new majority leader. He’s allowed over 20 amendments to the Keystone pipeline bill. This is not like the Senate that we’ve seen over last four years. The Senate Democrats are blocking the ability to even debate the bill. Senator McConnell’s offered them the opportunity to offer amendments. It’s their turn. That’s the way the system works. That’s the way the constitution spells it out.
So, the House has done its job. We’ve spoken. If the Senate doesn’t like it, they’ll have to produce something that fits their institution.
So with McConnell, a solid number of Republicans, Democrats, the White House, and much of the media setting up Boehner and conservatives for a fall, what can the Speaker do to try and prevent public opinion from turning enough of his own caucus against him?
Simply put, he should reject the premise of the question, and the narrative that is implicit in it.
Is the House willing to let funding run out? Clearly not, as it voted to fund DHS and stop President Obama from hypocritically violating the Constitution. Just as clearly, the House is simply using the constitutional powers it has to stop Obama from doing something that will undercut the rule of law, endanger national security, prove fiscally harmful to all levels of U.S. government, and go around the constitutional bounds of his office.
As I said above, Boehner rightly took a strong stand against the idea that his chamber is to blame for the funding dispute. But as a Republican, he cannot allow any slip in his message, and by accepting the narrative that he and his chamber would let DHS funding run out, he just gave a huge opening to a whole host of scared Republicans, the media, and Democrats.
Addendum: It is worth noting again that Boehner has not traditionally stuck to his guns on anything — whether it was his vow to cut $100 billion in Year One of his speakership, his willingness to undercut sequestration, or his leadership on passing the 2015 funding debacle in December. A policy friend noted that while Boehner’s current stance looks good on TV, it is not within his normal negotiating parameters — and that by focusing the fight on DHS funding (something that Republicans prioritize more than Democrats), Boehner may have already sold his party out.
Again, so far Boehner has been excellent in this fight, and it is always possible this could be the issue upon which Boehner decides to stand as a conservative. Let’s see if he’s willing to up the ante and stop the president’s amnesty in its tracks.