Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Obstruction Construction

As Politico's Michael Grunwald points out in this article, in 2008 Democrats had control of the federal government and a majority of states, and the GOP tactic of obstructing President Obama's agenda at every turn not only succeeded, but voters across the country rewarded Republicans for it with total control of the federal government and a majority of the states eight years later.

This strategy of kicking the hell out of Obama all the time, treating him not just as a president from the opposing party but an extreme threat to the American way of life, has been a remarkable political success. It helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016. This no-cooperation, no-apologies approach is also on the verge of delivering a conservative majority on the Supreme Court; Republicans violated all kinds of Washington norms when they refused to even pretend to consider any Obama nominee, but they paid no electoral price for it—and probably helped persuade some reluctant Republican voters to back Donald Trump in November by keeping the Court in the balance.

So the party’s anti-Obama strategy has ended up working almost exactly as planned, except that none of the Republican elites who devised it, not even Vice President-elect Pence, envisioned that their new leader would rise to power by attacking Republican elites as well as the Democratic president. President-elect Trump was really the ultimate anti-Obama, not only channeling but embodying their anti-Obama playbook so convincingly that he managed to seize the Republican Party from loyal Republicans. And in the process, he has empowered an angry slice of the GOP base that has even some GOP incumbents worried about the forces they helped unleash.

Still, for the most part, obstructionism worked. Americans always tell pollsters they want politicians to work together, but as Washington Democrats decide how to approach the Trump era from the minority, they will be keenly aware that the Republican Party’s decision to throw sand in the gears of government throughout the Obama era helped the Republican Party wrest unified control of that government—even though the party establishment lost control of the party in the process. Unprecedented intransigence has yielded unprecedented results.

Opposition parties always oppose, especially in a country as polarized as America. Republicans impeached Bill Clinton, and Democratic fury at George W. Bush helped pave the way for Obama. What has distinguished the opposition to Obama is not just the intensity—a GOP congressman shouting “You lie!” during a presidential address, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s admission that his top priority was limiting Obama to one term—but the consistency. Before Obama even took office, when official Washington was counseling cooperation and moderation for a party that seemed to be on a path to oblivion, Cantor and McConnell laid out their strategies of all-out opposition at private GOP meetings. And on just about every issue, from Obamacare to climate to education reforms that conservatives supported until Obama embraced them, Republicans have embraced that strategy.

Washington Republicans took plenty of abuse over their “Party of No” approach, especially when they flouted Washington traditions by threatening to force the government into default, or actually shutting the government down. Their approval ratings drooped to levels associated with crime lords, journalists and Nickelback. They endured plenty of setbacks, as Obama managed to enact much of his agenda over their dissent, won a comfortable reelection, and now enjoys the highest approval ratings of his tenure. But they can now claim victory, even though their maximalist no-compromise approach helped launch the anti-establishment GOP insurgency that cost Cantor his seat in a primary—he was accused of failing to fight Obama hard enough—and ultimately propelled Trump to the nomination over their preferred candidates.

No wonder then that Democrats in the Senate are starting to realize that the new game in town that needs to be played, starting with as much blanket opposition to Trump's cabinet picks as they can, and as often as possible.

Multiple Democratic senators told POLITICO in interviews last week that after watching Republicans sit on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court for nearly a year, they’re in no mood to fast-track Trump’s selections.

But it’s not just about exacting revenge.

Democrats argue that some of the president-elect’s more controversial Cabinet picks — such as Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary — demand a thorough public airing.

“They’ve been rewarded for stealing a Supreme Court justice. We’re going to help them confirm their nominees, many of whom are disqualified?” fumed Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “It’s not obstruction, it’s not partisan, it’s just a duty to find out what they’d do in these jobs.”

Senate Democrats can’t block Trump’s appointments, which in all but one case need only 51 votes for confirmation. But they can turn the confirmation process into a slog.

Any individual senator can force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold procedural votes on nominees. Senior Democrats said a series of such votes are likely for many of Trump’s picks.

Good.  Make it take months to get these cabinet picks filled, if not longer.  Of course, it remains to be seen if Democrats can play the game as well as the GOP did when they were in the minority (and so far it's been a dismal failure in the House and Senate over the last two years of GOP rule.)

Still, it's the only real shot they have, and at least somebody's willing to go on record to say they are going to start fighting.

New tag: The Resistance.

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