The Republicans can’t even lose according to plan

We are witnessing yet another example of how Republican infighting is creating a chaotic legislative situation. The party has long since morphed into something in which the labels moderate and conservative no longer fit the factions within it. Instead we now have two groups better described as extremists and nutcases, the former being those who hold the extreme positions on economic issues that their oligarchic bosses demand and the extreme positions on social issues that their Tea Party base expects. This group controls the leadership of the party.

The nutcases hold those same positions but are willing to grandstand in the most hyperbolic and shameless way and are willing to threaten to completely shut down the government if they do not get their way. These people tend not to be in leadership positions but are high profile, like senator Ted Cruz and representative Steve King.

The problem for the Republicans is that they hold majorities in the US Senate (54-46) and in the House of Representatives (246-188) and so the party base expects it to be able to pass their agenda and feel frustrated that they seem to be losing on so many things such as the debt ceiling, Obamacare, and same-sex marriage. The nutcases are exploiting this sense of frustration to try and embarrass the extremists in the leadership.

We see the dynamic between the two groups played out most clearly in the vote on the Iran nuclear deal. The extremist party leadership realized long ago that a deal negotiated by the US president and agreed to by the P5+1 coalition of the US, Germany, Russia, China, UK, and France could not, and should not, be derailed because that would leave the US completely isolated on the world stage with only Israel supporting it.

But Israel and the right wing Israel lobby in the US led by AIPAC were demanding that the deal be scuttled and pulling out all the stops to do so, to an extent that was unprecedented in the contemptuous way it treated president Barack Obama. So the Republican leadership, led by the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee Bob Corker of Tennessee, decided on a strategy to have the deal passed without them having to vote in favor of it and thus alienating its Israel-supporting fundamentalist Christian base.

The first step was in deciding that the deal would not be considered a treaty, which would have required 2/3 majorities in both houses to pass. This requires 67 votes in the Senate and 290 in the House and thus would require at least some Republicans to vote in favor of it and this was unpalatable.

The other possibility was to say that Congress would be required to vote approval of the deal. This would require a simple majority of both houses and again would require Republicans to vote in favor and so was ditched.

So the plan agreed to with the Democrats and the White House was that there would be a sixty-day window in which Congress could vote disapproval of the deal. That deadline is on September 17. Failing to do so by then would mean that the deal gets approved. Since it was clear that any vote of disapproval would be vetoed by the president, this meant that now Congress would need a 2/3 majority to override the veto. In other words, to have the deal approved only required 34 votes in the Senate and 146 votes in the House to sustain the veto. Since most Democrats would likely support the deal despite the pressure of the Israel lobby, every Republican could now vote against the deal and still have it go through.

As Tierney Sneed said:

Under the Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)- Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) compromise hammered out by lawmakers and signed by the President in May, lawmakers had 60 days to consider the deal before voting to approve or disapprove the negotiation. (Or lawmakers alternatively could do nothing and Obama could still implement the deal). It was assumed that the clock began ticking in July soon after the deal had been announced, giving lawmakers a September 17 deadline to weigh in on it.

This strategy of finding a way to lose on an issue even while you have the majority and vote unanimously against it is not new. It has been used before in getting the debt ceiling raised and is one of the many forms of legislative shenanigans that have become necessary because of the conflict between the basic duties of governing a country and pandering to your lobbies and base.

As of the last two days, 42 Democratic senators had announced that they would vote in favor of the deal, with only four of them joining the Republicans in opposing the deal. So approval of the deal is now guaranteed. This also meant that if 41 of them voted to filibuster the disapproval vote, then the president would not even need to veto the bill.

Opponents had thought that once Congress came back from its August recess on September 8, pressure could be ratcheted up on wavering senators to vote against the deal. They had even scheduled Dick Cheney to emerge from his crypt to deliver a speech against the deal yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute. Why Republicans think that Dick Cheney is influential is a mystery. In fact, the best way to get support for the deal is to have Cheney speak out against it and the White House went out of their way to mock Cheney with this ad.

And in fact, what happened during Cheney’s speech epitomized the sense of impotent anger of the deal’s opponents when a young Code Pink protestor holding a sign that said “Cheney: Wrong on Iraq, Wrong on Iran” disrupted it. A man identified as Patrick Clawson, a top executive at WINEP (Washington Institute for Near East Policy) widely regarded as AIPAC’s think tank, tried to tear the sign away from her and was unable to do so despite being much bigger than her. He had to ignominiously sit down as she easily held on to her sign with one hand. It is pretty funny to watch.

Chris Hayes gives public speakers a pro-tip: Never grab a protest sign.

But all this posturing comes too late. This has to be seen as also a major defeat for the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC, the chief right wing arm of the Israel lobby, that had poured resources into defeating the deal. AIPAC has had its aura of strength seriously undermined. Meanwhile this fight has strengthened the hand of Jewish organizations in the US who have been fighting the idea that AIPAC speaks for all American Jews.

This has made the nutcases furious. The rally they had planned for yesterday in front of the Capitol was an exercise in futility although new best friends Ted Cruz and Donald Trump used it to get more attention to themselves.

In their desperation, some House members are now trying to sabotage the deal their own party agreed to using a new tactic to prevent the September 17 deadline kicking in by bringing in new spurious objections. This derailed the planned vote yesterday on the deal in the House. But Senator Corker is not a fan of the new tactic and it seems unlikely to get anywhere in the Senate even if it gets approved in the House and will simply underscore the sense that they are losers. As Greg Sargent said, “On Iran deal, Republicans move swiftly to snatch defeat from jaws of defeat.”

So there we are. The Iran deal is going to be approved. The only remaining issue now is whether the disapproval vote will be filibustered by 41 of the 42 Democratic senators who say they support the deal and thus simply have the vote of disapproval die on the vine or whether it passes and president Obama has to veto it and have the veto sustained.



  1. Who Cares says

    The one thing I can’t wrap my head around is that it would be embarrassing for Obama to have to veto the disapproval.
    Is that because it would mean enough of ‘his’ party didn’t follow party lines on how to vote?

  2. Lonely Panda, e.s.l. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This clears up a lot of confusion I’ve had listening to the news recently. I’ve been hearing about the anticipated vote counts in Congress for this deal, and it was making no sense at all. It’s like a poorly worded survey question where you don’t know if you should answer the question asked or the question it seems like they meant to ask. So all the obfuscation allows people to be for the deal while simultaneously appearing to be against it.

  3. raven says

    Meanwhile this fight has strengthened the hand of Jewish organizations in the US who have been fighting the idea that AIPAC speaks for all American Jews.

    Netanyahu doesn’t speak for all Israelis either much less all Israeli Jews.

    Israel is a sharply divided society. Even more so than the USA which is..highly polarized.

    Netanyahu barely won the last election. He represents the Jewish fundies aka Ultra-Orthodox. The secular middle class has no power even though they pay most of the taxes.

  4. Mano Singham says

    @Who Cares #1,

    The need to use a presidential veto signals that the president is in the minority and is newsworthy. But if the bill never gets to the president’s desk, it is almost as if it never existed, since most people don’t pay that much attention to the details of legislative process.

  5. Who Cares says

    @Mano Singham(#4):
    Thanks for that explanation still don’t see why that is newsworthy, the democrats are in the minority in both the congress and senate.
    What would be newsworthy is that the republicans deliberately set themselves up to fail. Why else setup a vote that would require the co-operation of the democrats, and in the senate a substantial number of them, to even get this resolution to Obama let alone bypass the veto he promised. I’m not that well versed in U.S. politics (as I’m not as U.S resident) but I’m betting there would have been an option that would have leveraged the republican majorities into blocking the Iran deal.

    Got to admit that that is some quality politics there. Can’t shoot down the deal because the world would frown at that but due to years of rhetoric the party base would explode if that was admitted so setup something that seems to do what you promised while the only way for it to work is for your opponent to cooperate with you. If anything went wrong it is the way the democrats (as party/president) have been treated on this, which caused enough of them to stand against the resolution so that the republicans couldn’t rub their control of congress and senate in Obamas face.

  6. says

    The truth of it is that ever since Reagan declared that government is the problem, the Republican party has been more and more incapable of even participating in government in any meaningful way other than derailing its rational functioning. The relatively rational Republicans in government have to walk a tightrope where they can’t act in a positive manner, can’t help Democrats get things done either, and know that following their constituents is bordering on treason.

  7. Holms says

    If the spectre of AIPAC has been weakened, then at least something positive has finally come from their efforts: harmed by their overreach, people can now hopefully realise that Israel should not dominate US foreign policy.

  8. StevoR says

    @ ^ Holms : Israel doesn’t though. Never has. (Not a crime for anyone to have a lobby group either btw & its not like the Arabs lack lobbying power too.)

    Hence Obama (an anti-Israel POTUS) snubbing Netanyahu and signing the Iran deal to name just a couple of things. Can we retire the old “Oh no Teh Jooz!” Conspiracy Theory rubbish now please?

    The Republicans can’t even lose according to plan

    They sure are losing though -- even worse than they & we expected.

  9. lorn says

    Improbable Joe @6 identifies one of the key logical and functional defects and internal contradictions in the GOP core argument: Running for office in a government while claiming that government is incapable of doing any good, and might be inherently evil, put candidates who win in a bind. Doing the job of government , running things, or even admitting that things might be made to work, makes them out to be hypocrites and traitors to their own constituencies.

    It is like a representative of the pro-pyromania party getting a job with the fire department. Assuming the leadership is stupid enough to hire him, what then? If he puts out fires his constituency cries foul. If he doesn’t he is not doing his job.

    Which is why he takes the third course, sabotage. At night he slashes the tires on th fire truck and at fires he moves as slowly as possible and screws up as much as he can get away with while making it look like he might be trying to put out the fire.

    The GOP is big on sabotage. Head-faking toward progress while making sure nothing gets done. And then, of course, blaming the lack of progress on the ‘divisive nature of the other side and their unwillingness to compromise’ while simultaneously bragging to their core constituency about how they shut the process down, again.

    It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

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