As Republicans take control of both the House and Senate for the first time in eight years, the
New York Times is preparing the political ground for GOP failure. Exhibit A: Monday's front-page story by Times congressional reporter Carl Hulse.
In taking control of Congress on Tuesday, Republicans say they will quickly advance energy and health care legislation that stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate as they try to make good on claims,
and address doubts, that they can govern effectively.
“We have sort of laid down the marker, and we need to follow through,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican, as the 114th Congress prepared to convene.
Yet a sour note is possible on Tuesday as Speaker John A. Boehner seeks his third term as the House leader. Some disgruntled conservatives have said they will not back Mr. Boehner -- he was embarrassed when a dozen defected two years ago -- and a coup, while unlikely, would represent a disastrous beginning. Some conservative activists also say congressional Republicans are starting out too timidly.
Two years ago the
Times ran much the same story on Boehner's struggles, after he failed to win the support of 12 Republicans (while the 19 Democrats who dissented from voting for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker after the 2010 elections was hardly mentioned by the paper at the time).
Hulse highlighted two recent GOP controversies:
House Republicans have run into an image problem while preparing for the new Congress. Representative Michael G. Grimm of New York was forced to resign last week after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion, and the third-ranking majority member, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, came under fire after reports surfaced last week that he had spoken to a white supremacist group in 2002. Mr. Boehner took the lead in pushing out Mr. Grimm, but threw his support behind Mr. Scalise.
Given the rebellious streak that conservative House and Senate Republicans have exhibited, top Democrats remain skeptical that Republicans can maintain control over the rank and file as they navigate some treacherous legislative terrain in the months ahead, including the need to increase the federal debt limit in the spring and the passage of a federal budget plan.
Hulse set the GOP up for a fall:
Republicans have significant incentive to rack up some victories. They will be judged on their legislative performance in the 2016 elections, a presidential year when voters may be less friendly to the Republicans than they were last fall. Republicans will have twice as many Senate seats on the ballot as the Democrats will, including swing states like Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Hulse's story makes a convenient book-end with Michael Shear's off-lead front-page story from Sunday, a "gotcha!" portraying the Republicans as partisan hypocrites who are turning to judicial activism, just like they accuse Democrats of doing. The headline writer made sure everyone got the partisan hackery point: "
G.O.P. Turns to the Courts to Aid Agenda -- Past Disdain Put Aside to Block Obama."
As Republicans prepare to take full control of Congress on Tuesday, the party’s leaders are counting on judges, not their newly elected majority on Capitol Hill, to roll back President Obama’s aggressive second-term agenda and block his executive actions on health care, climate change and immigration.
On health care, Republicans in Washington have sued the president and joined state lawsuits challenging major parts of the Affordable Care Act in the courts. On climate change, state attorneys general and coal industry groups are urging federal courts to block the president’s plan to regulate power plants. And on immigration, conservative lawmakers and state officials have demanded that federal judges overturn Mr. Obama’s plan to prevent millions of deportations.
Democrats say the legal moves reflect a convenient turnabout for the Republican Party and a newfound willingness to seek an active role for the judiciary when it benefits conservative policy goals.
“What they cannot win in the legislative body, they now seek and hope to achieve through judicial activism,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia. “That is such delicious irony, it makes one’s head spin.”
Not that the
Times ever minded liberal judicial activism on social issues like gay marriage or abortion.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said he believed the president’s policies would withstand the legal challenges, saying of the administration, “Certainly, they were very, very careful not to go beyond what the law will allow.”
Mr. Schumer added that the Republican definition of an activist judge was flexible. “They decry the courts’ overruling or implementing things they don’t like,” he said, “but are eager to have the courts implement things they like.”
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, countered that conservatives were turning to judges more frequently because of Mr. Obama’s moves to enact sweeping policy on his own, and because gridlock in Washington had prevented Republican efforts to stop him.
“The courts are the venue, really, to try to keep the presidential authority in check,” Mr. Sekulow said in an interview. “That’s why the conservatives are turning to the courts.”
For years, conservatives criticized liberals who sought judicial action on civil rights or social issues.
Shear thought he had a gotcha in one famous win by the Republican Party at the Supreme Court, but the
Bush vs. Gore decision, which cut short what could have been an endless process of counting and recounting presidential votes in Florida, was a decision on process and not fought on ideological grounds.
But the courts have also been a source of political victories for Republicans, most notably in 2000, when the Supreme Court intervened to stop the counting of presidential ballots in Florida and gave Mr. Bush the White House.
Shear had to take back another gotcha in a subsequent correction:
An earlier version of this article misstated the type of challenge to the affordable Care Act that is before the Supreme Court. The case is a challenge to an Internal Revenue Service rule, arguing that it is contrary to the text of the A.C.A.; the case is not a constitutional challenge.