Who's in charge here?

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How the Shutdown Trap Snared the GOP

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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The fight over Homeland Security funding could be canceled after a Texas judge put President Barack Obama’s immigration actions on hold, at least temporarily. Greg Sargent at Plum Line has a good summary of where this leaves the president's policy and the congressional Republicans' fight against it. 

But odds are the showdown over the department's financing will continue. Why? For the same reasons the fight started in the first place: the internal dynamics of the Republican Party.

Congress scholar Joshua Huder over at Rule 22 has a terrific post explaining why we keep seeing this play out the same way. Radical House Republicans demand something that the House doesn't have the leverage to get. When the rest of the conference supports them, the House passes something sure to be dead on arrival in the Senate or on the president's desk.

In this case, riders on the Homeland Security bill that would block the president's immigration actions don't have the support needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, much less to override Obama's veto. Normally, the next step would be negotiating a deal for something they could obtain. Instead we get a stalemate. 

Huder gets to the heart of it, focusing on what Raul Labrador and his fellow House radicals are up to:

In the process of promising victories they cannot deliver, Labrador and his colleagues are also feeding a couple of underlying problems in the Republican Party. Statements like these set up unrealistic expectations. Many constituents likely believe McConnell is standing between conservatives and their immigration battle with the President. As I mentioned, that is not the case.

Further, failing to understand (or acknowledge) leaderships' limitations makes McConnell’s and Boehner’s job harder. Congressional leaders are only effective if others are willing to follow. Framing Republican leaders as weak, not conservative enough, or cowardly deters colleagues and constituents from following leaders’ cues.

Conservatives blame Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for being too weak; liberals blame Boehner (as Paul Waldman at Plum Line does here) or McConnell, saying they are choosing government by crisis. Both sides are wrong. The two leaders are managing as best they can. The fault rests with irresponsible politicians who, Huder says, are willing to “throw their party leaders, and the majority’s capacity to enact laws, under the bus.”

This begins with only a couple dozen or so members of the House -- the Crazy Caucus. But it also includes other Republicans, who are terrified of being portrayed as less than True Conservatives.  

On the must-pass bills, such as the financing for Homeland Security, the leadership knows it will eventually have to reach some agreement with Obama. The radicals will oppose whatever that agreement might be, regardless of substance. That leaves 150 or more House Republicans who hope to avoid a shutdown or other crisis, which will hurt Republicans overall, but who want this to happen without their vote.

The real losers are conservatives who care about influencing policy. I'll end with Huder:

Whether it’s principle, stubbornness, or an inability to grasp legislative process, House conservatives have gotten into a bad habit of shooting themselves in the foot and then blaming their leaders when they can’t walk on one foot ... The only real winners in this scenario are the fundraisers and those that do not want the Republican Party to exist in its current form. Because at this rate, it is hard to imagine this majority enacting much of anything resembling a conservative vision for the country.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net