New York Times Warns New GOP Congress and 'Cantankerous...Critic' John McCain Not to Cross Obama

January 14th, 2015 11:55 AM

The New York Times' message to the new Republican congress? Just don't cross Obama. That was the gist of three political stories in Wednesday's Times. Sheryl Gay Stolberg's profile of Senate veteran John McCain was mostly respectful: "At 78, an Untamed McCain Savors a New Dream Job in the Senate." But was this sentence necessary? "For now, despite hints that he is trying to reinvent himself from cantankerous Obama critic to elder statesman, Mr. McCain still seems to be in clobber mode."

Stolberg used a hostile description from Leslie H. Gelb, a former Times journalist with decades of service to the paper (not noted by Stolberg) to launch her sentence caricaturing McCain as a "cantankerous" old man.

“McCain now has the power either to destroy the president’s national security policy or shape it constructively,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is the first step to see whether he is going to use his new power to clobber Obama as he has for the past six years, or whether he will use it to try to shape and improve Obama’s policy.”

For now, despite hints that he is trying to reinvent himself from cantankerous Obama critic to elder statesman, Mr. McCain still seems to be in clobber mode.


Senior Senate Democrats say they respect Mr. McCain for his expertise and bipartisan deal-making on issues like immigration, and they hold out the possibility that Mr. McCain will do more on the Armed Services Committee than browbeat Mr. Obama’s nominees during confirmation hearings, as he has in the past. There are some signs of change: Mr. McCain is an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, who is to appear before the committee in February.

Also on Wednesday, John Harwood hinted that there was hope for the mean old "Party of No": "For G.O.P., Precedent to Cooperate and Shed Its 'Party of No' Label." Hooray!

Sixty years ago, William F. Buckley Jr. offered a mission statement for the conservative movement as well as his new magazine, National Review: “It stands athwart history, yelling stop.” Then, the movement represented just one element of Republican politics, and not the dominant one.

That changed in the era of President Ronald Reagan, who declared that “government is the problem,” not the solution to America’s woes. Republican leaders who dared buck that formula since -- the elder President George Bush by raising taxes or President George W. Bush by expanding Medicare and bailing out Wall Street -- have faced increasing dissent.

Antigovernment fervor peaked in the Tea Party resistance to President Obama and his agenda, setting off a debt-limit crisis in 2011 and a government shutdown in 2013. Last week, it drove the unusually large intraparty opposition to the re-election of Speaker John A. Boehner, whom some conservatives accuse of insufficient zeal in battling the White House.

Coincidentally, most all of Harwood's ideas for bipartisanship involved expanding government, and certainly don't include negating "signature White House achievements like the health care law."

Recent history points to possibilities for cooperation on initiatives the Republicans strongly favor that the Democrats could prove unwilling to block.

The 1986 midterm elections, for example, gave Democrats full control of Congress for Reagan’s last two years in office. The president and lawmakers enacted a plan -- repealed the next year after public protests -- to create catastrophic care coverage under Medicare.

The 2006 midterms gave Democrats the House and Senate for the last two years of Mr. Bush’s second term. Congress passed, and he signed, an increase in the federal minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Ms. Capito, as a House member from one of the poorest states, joined 81 other Republicans in voting yes.

November’s elections produced a similar alignment, with party roles reversed. But the formula for successful legislation works only if Republicans push priorities that Mr. Obama can ultimately accept. Those do not include negation of signature White House achievements like the health care law.


Congressional Republicans and the president have both embraced the idea of a corporate tax overhaul that lowers the 35 percent top rate, but they remain far apart on details.

But Mr. Obama’s call for a tax overhaul plan that increases infrastructure spending hardly sounds hostile to Ms. Capito. Another constituent at that grocery store asked her to help rural communities gain more Internet access, one of Mr. Obama’s oft-mentioned infrastructure goals.

And Wednesday's front-page was graced with a hostile story by Jonathan Weisman and Eric Lipton accusing the GOP of being in cahoots with Big Money: "Wall Street Chips Away at Dodd-Frank Rules." The online headline made it clear that the political villain was the incoming GOP House and Senate: "In New Congress, Wall St. Pushes to Undermine Dodd-Frank Reform."

In the span of a month, the nation’s biggest banks and investment firms have twice won passage of measures to weaken regulations intended to help lessen the risk of another financial crisis, setting their sights on narrow, arcane provisions and greasing their efforts with a surge of lobbying and campaign contributions.

The continuing assault on the 2010 Dodd-Frank law has achieved remarkable success, especially compared with the repeated failures of opponents of another 2010 law, the Affordable Care Act.

The financial industry has been methodical, drafting technically complicated legislation that can pass the heavily Republican House with a few Democratic votes. And then, once approved, Wall Street has pushed to tack such measures on to larger bills considered too important for the White House to block.

The House was back at it this week. Lawmakers approved by a vote of 250 to 175, with just eight Democrats in support, a broad measure to impose a variety of new restrictions on federal regulators, like stricter cost-benefit analyses and an expansion of judicial review. That measure would affect every regulatory agency, be it the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the century-old Food and Drug Administration. And like past attacks on the health care law, it has little chance of overcoming a threat of a presidential veto.

The Times' hand-picked voice of reason was the bill's co-author, ultra-liberal retired congressman Barney Frank.

Proponents of regulation say that they are badly outgunned by an army of Wall Street lobbyists, and complain that the Obama administration has been too weak in its response.

“The president was slow in drawing the same kind of line on financial reform that he did on health care,” said Barney Frank, the retired chairman of the House Financial Services Committee who helped write Dodd-Frank.