Last July Diane spoke with Financial Times columnist Edward Luce about his book, "The Retreat of Western Liberalism." A year later, we have invited him back for an update.
When Republican Congressman John Boehner became speaker of the house in 2011, it brought tears to his eyes. Just five years later, he’s announced his resignation. Boehner’s command of the speaker’s gavel had become increasingly tenuous in recent years, with mounting criticism from far-right members of his own party. They say Boehner didn’t adhere to conservative principles on abortion, the budget and Obamacare. We look at the forces that led Boehner to give up his post, who might succeed him and what it all means for the upcoming budget battle in Washington.
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
- Susan Davis Congressional reporter, NPR
- Byron York Chief political correspondent, The Washington Examiner
- Julianne Thompson Founder, Free America Project; former co-chair, Tea Party of Atlanta, Georgia
Watch: John Boehner On "Face The Nation"
House Speaker John Boehner talked with John Dickerson on the Sept. 27 episode of “Face The Nation.”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In surprise announcement Friday, House Speaker John Boehner says he will leave Congress at the end of October. More than 25 members of his own party threaten a no confidence vote if he remains Speaker of the House. Joining me to talk about the forces that drove John Boehner to resign, what it means for Republicans in Congress and the future of the GOP, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Susan Davis of NPR and Byron York of The Washington Examiner.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you will become part of the conversation by joining us on the telephone, 800-433-8850. Send in your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MS. SUSAN DAVISHi, Diane.
MR. BYRON YORKThank you.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINThank you, Diane.
REHMNorm Ornstein, yesterday on "Face The Nation," John Boehner told John Dickerson that he had actually planned to retire much earlier, but the defeat of Eric Cantor delayed his decision. So how much of a surprise was this to you?
ORNSTEINThe fact that he decided he would leave by the end of October was a bit of a surprise, but, you know, while a lot of people thought that this motion to vacate the speakership, something that hasn't happened in 100 years, that had been raised by a couple of dissident Republican House members would not succeed. I actually thought it might. And the way that Boehner would've been able to stay as Speaker, had that motion come up in the next week or two, was only by cutting a deal with Democrats.
ORNSTEINAnd that would've made him a Speaker in the middle and he just wasn't comfortable with that. So the fact that he left was not a surprise. The timing of it, to me, of the departure, was.
REHMHow about the timing for you, Susan Davis?
DAVISI mean, the timing was absolutely stunning. What I also thought was interesting is in his press conference on Friday, Boehner said he had already been planning to announce that he was going to resign on November 17, which is his birthday. And he said his original plan was to announce that day that he would leave at the end of the year, but that following the visit of Pope Francis, he got up on Friday morning, did his normal routine and decided, you know, today's the day and told his staff at 8:45 that morning at their daily staff meeting.
DAVISAnd only told Kevin McCarthy, who's the majority leader, who's like to be the next Speaker, two minutes before he made the announcement that he said, they walked into the conference meeting and he said, hey, Kevin. I'm going to announce I'm leaving.
REHMByron York, you were at that Value Voters Summit on Friday when the news came out. Talk about the reaction.
YORKWell, this is a gathering of very conservative activists from all around the country, many social conservatives, probably a couple thousand people in the room. The announcement that Boehner was resigning actually was announced by Marco Rubio, off all people. He's coming out and he's giving a speech and he works it into his speech, saying just a few moments ago, we got news that Speaker Boehner -- he didn't even get it out of his mouth.
YORKThere was a standing ovation. People were cheering the news that John Boehner is out. These are the activists who support what's called the Freedom Caucus in the House, this group of 30, 40 Republicans who have been Boehner's nemesis for a long time, certainly with the government shutdown in 2013. And they were in a very celebratory mood.
REHMHow ineffective was Boehner, as far as the far right was concerned?
ORNSTEINWell, the far right set standards that Boehner simply couldn't meet that, frankly, no Speaker can meet and that's going to be a problem looking ahead. And those standards were, first, that he would get rid of Barack Obama as president, that he would, if not, bring the president to his knees, that he would be able to repeal Obamacare, that he would slash spending far more than he did, that he would use the debt ceiling and the budget process as cudgels to beat the other side into submission.
ORNSTEINAnd Boehner simply couldn't achieve those goals. Now, to make his way through as Speaker, Diane, Boehner pursued what I called the passive-aggressive style of leadership. He knew that he was either going to have to move ahead and simply say, hey, I'm going to bring these things up and they're going to pass things that you don't like with more Democrats than Republicans, which would have really imperiled the speakership earlier on, or what I'm going to do is give the radicals enough rope that they can go all the way to the end just before the hangman's noose comes to tighten and realize that this is disastrous.
ORNSTEINThen, I'll bring things up for votes. They can vote against, but they'll see that I had no choice. And that worked, to some degree, at least it kept us from utter gridlock and catastrophe, but it meant that the resentments were building and building. And I'd make one other point, which is this isn't just about Boehner. This is a deeper antiestablishment view in which he became the focal point. Guess who's the focal point now? Mitch McConnell.
YORKWell, there was this enormous frustration among Republicans, first of all, who felt they got run over in Barack Obama's two years, which they did because the Democrats had a lock on Congress, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for a while. And then, they thought, well, we've elected a Republican House in 2010 and that will -- it really did put a lot of stop to the president's agenda. He didn't do another Obamacare, another stimulus, another Dodd-Frank, but they weren't getting what they wanted done.
YORKSo, well, you know, if we elect a Republican Senate, we'll control the House and the Senate and we can undo all these things. And I think that they've run up against some basic math problems and the basic constitutional structure of the country that Democrats in the Senate, as a minority, are still able to stop anything that's done in Congress if they have 41 votes or it, failing that, the president can stop anything Republicans do if he has 34 senators in the Senate to uphold a veto.
YORKSo they wanted to overturn Obamacare, couldn't do that. They could not stop the president's unilateral action on immigration. They could not stop the Iran deal and the frustration was just growing, as actually Marco Rubio said at that conference the other day, people began to believe, why have we elected a majority of Congress if we can't get what we want done?
REHMAnd yet, Susan, again yesterday on "Face the Nation," Speaker Boehner spoke about being aware of warning of false prophets.
DAVISFalse prophets, yeah. I thought that was a really interesting...
REHMWhat did he mean by that?
DAVISWhat he means is that when he talks about these conservatives that go out and, I think, pledge to do things like repeal Obamacare or stop the Iran deal and they say they are going to do these things and they are unrealistic pledges, when you consider that you don't have 60 votes in the Senate and a Democrat in the White House, and this view that if you just fight harder, you could get the president to eventually agree with you.
DAVISAnd I Boehner was always stuck in the middle between a far right that was making promises to their base and to their supporters and their voters that they could not follow through on and the reality of Washington as it is today. Mitch McConnell is, as Norm said, faces this similar problem in the Senate. It's a newer problem for him as Republicans took over the Senate just this year, but you see that sort of snowballing effect in the Senate as more frustration is being talked about McConnell and that the grass roots looks at party leaders in Washington as part of the problem.
DAVISThey see them as complicit with the Obama administration and they just don't buy the argument that split government doesn't allow you to get everything you want.
ORNSTEINDiane, this is, in some ways, deja vu all over again. Newt Gingrich came in in 1994 and we had a Republican House and Senate in a sweeping election with Bill Clinton as president and the promise that they were going to pass all kinds of bills and basically run roughshod over Clinton or at minimum, would pass these laws and Clinton would have to veto them and they could set out this strong contrast of what conservatives wanted to do versus what he wanted to do.
ORNSTEINAnd the House and Senate clashed because they have very different timing and different priorities. Before very long, Newt Gingrich was saying that he could get along better with Bill Clinton than he could with the Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and he called Bob Dole the tax collector of the welfare state. Now, what we've got is, very likely -- I will make a prediction that Speaker Kevin McCarthy, before very long, is going to be speaking out against Mitch McConnell and saying our roadblock is at least as much with McConnell and those establishment figures in the Senate as with the president.
YORKWell, if I could add one thing to what Susan said, talking to some of these voters, not just at conferences in Washington, but out on the campaign trail, they understand, many of them do, that Republicans can't get everything they want. They can't work their will. But they wanted to see more fight, even if their team went down losing, the last thing they wanted to hear was a lawmaker who said, look, if we pass it, the Democrats will probably filibuster it.
YORKAnd even if we pass it, Obama is going to veto it so why try? They wanted them to try.
REHMThey wanted them to fight.
YORKTo fight. And they went down fighting, fine. There is this -- there's the constitutional provision for a veto, but if -- they wanted them to fight to that point.
DAVISThe only thing I would say to that, though, is that that is the strategy that Boehner tried to do. He would try to put a bill on the floor to, in the most recent fight, defund Planned Parenthood. He would give people the vote. He'd give them the say and it was never good enough. There was nothing he could offer that part of the party that would ever make them say, good effort, let's all be part of a team now.
REHMSo it was as much his personality or -- I mean, you say he tried. He tried to do what they wanted him to do, but could not succeed.
DAVISThat is a very interesting point because I do think that personality does come into play in this in that John Boehner is as conservative as the next conservative in the House. But stylistically, he is not -- the rhetoric and the tone, I would say, of the Tea Party is not his. He doesn't embrace the politics of confrontation and particularly the rhetoric in the same way and I think that that made them see him as weak.
REHMSusan Davis is congressional reporter for NPR. Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk further, take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the impending resignation from the Congress as well as the speakership of the House of current Speaker John Boehner. Joining us now is Julianne Thompson. She is in Atlanta, Ga., and founder of the grassroots Free America Project, former co-chair of Tea Party of Atlanta. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show," Julianne.
MS. JULIANNE THOMPSONOh, thank you for having me.
REHMTell me what your reaction was when you heard the news of John Boehner's resignation.
THOMPSONWell, I had mixed emotions. At first, I was hopeful that things would change in a more positive manner. But, you know, only time will tell. I agree with a lot of what I'm hearing, that it, you know, it is very difficult to navigate the waters in Washington. But what I don't agree with and -- is that everyone in the Freedom Caucus is somehow wanting a fight. And I think there are a lot of pragmatic people in the Freedom Caucus that actually want to be solutions-oriented, that actually want to be proactive. And I think that as time goes on you are going to see just how strategic they are in their thinking.
REHMNow, explain why you thought John Boehner was not really a conservative republican.
THOMPSONWell, I do think John Boehner is a conservative Republican, arguably less conservative than the base of the Republican Party, but I do think he's a conservative Republican. I think that the problem that a lot of people had with John Boehner -- whether it's on Capitol Hill or whether it's back home -- is the stories of retribution against people that disagreed with him. And also I think it's just the general atmosphere in politics right now of the distaste for politicians who campaigned one way and govern another.
REHMI think that Byron York wants to make a comment about...
YORKYeah. I think Julie raised an extremely important point among this group in the Freedom Caucus. There was this belief that Boehner had supported primary challenges to some of these people -- these lawmakers. And their feeling was, whoever is speaker again, it sure ain't going to be anybody who has ever tried to get rid of some of his own conservative members. I think that that's internal politics but it was very important in the way they felt about Boehner.
REHMJulianne, in your mind, who should replace John Boehner? Do you support Kevin McCarthy as the next speaker?
THOMPSONWell, if Kevin McCarthy is chosen to be the next speaker, I'll most certainly get behind him and do everything I can to support him. I think that there are a number of people that are qualified to be speaker. I think that among the Tea Party, among Grassroots Evangelicals and, I mean, we're sort of taking about the base of the Republican Party as though it is just represented by the Tea Party but it's not. It's also represented by Evangelicals. It's represented by Liberty-minded Republicans and other, you know, rank-and-file, long-time Republican activists that are just tired of campaign promises that were not kept.
THOMPSONAnd, you know, as time goes on -- well, let me go back. When I first heard that Kevin McCarthy's name was out there as the probable replacement for John Boehner, I was, you know, a little disturbed about that. But as time goes on -- and I've done a lot of research over the weekend and I've talked to a lot of people, a lot of my very conservative contacts on Capitol Hill that work on Capitol Hill -- they're hopeful in the kind of administration that Kevin McCarthy could bring to the Conference. And I do consider him to be a conservative. And if he is elected as the next speaker, I'll do everything I can to help him reach out to the base.
REHMNorm Ornstein, is Kevin McCarthy conservative enough?
ORNSTEINWell, he has been. The question is, what happens now? But let me address a point that Julianne made about promises not kept. A lot of the roots of what happened to Boehner go back to 2010. They had a group which Kevin McCarthy was a critical part of called the Young Guns. They did a book -- it was McCarthy, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan. In that book, by the way, they barely mentioned John Boehner. But it was about this new generation of leaders. They went out and actively recruited candidates.
ORNSTEINThey used the Tea Party anger, populaced anger after the bailout, to basically secure this smashing victory in 2010 and had them use the issue of the debt ceiling as a key one. We're going to use that as a cudgel to bring down Obama and change things. And then promised that they would cut $100 billion in spending immediately if they took the majority, which they didn't do and couldn't do. And some of this really led to the backlash. Eric Cantor helped to bring this about and then suffered in -- as a consequence.
ORNSTEINNow, when Kevin McCarthy moved up to become majority leader and the Republicans took the Senate last time around, McCarthy was the first one to say, Now we've got to be responsible in governing, no more shutdowns, no more debt-ceiling battles. So now you've got a very different phenomenon. And whether McCarthy, who is promising his colleagues that he's going to be tougher than Boehner in his rhetoric against McConnell and against Obama and in pushing this further, whether he can fulfill promises that others have not been able to keep, and I'm a little skeptical.
YORKI think you do, also, at this point, have to bring in the presidential race a little bit because there will be some pressure exerted from that front, specifically because Ted Cruz, the senator that Boehner -- he wouldn't call him a false prophet, it was clearly he had Cruz in mind...
ORNSTEINJackass was the term he used.
YORK...say, he referred to an earlier time in which he did say that. But he clearly had Cruz specifically in mind when he was talking about false prophets. Well, Ted Cruz is doing pretty well on the Republican -- in the Republican race. He is certainly in the middle of the pack and appears to be rising, doing well with the activists in Iowa, South Carolina, other states across the southeast for the SEC primaries. He's going to be a big voice in the debates. So there is going to be pressure exerted on McCarthy or whoever it is, from the presidential race to push for these defunding and other initiatives.
REHMJulianne, I understand you recently left the Tea Party. Tell us why.
THOMPSONIt was for a variety of reasons, mainly to pursue my own goals. But the Tea Party began -- and I was very excited when it first began -- it began as being very focused on the core principles of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. And those are issues that I'm very passionate about, as are most Americans, I believe. And over time, I think it's gone away from its focus a little bit and perhaps become more reactionary over the years versus being proactive. And I believe that if you are going to be angry and you are going to talk about a problem that we have, you need to enter that conversation with some sort of open mind about a solution or bring a solution to the table. And I think that was where my split came.
REHMSo tell us about your Free America Project, what you actually think you can accomplish.
THOMPSONWell, what I would like to accomplish with the Free America Project -- it is a messaging and coalition-building project, with the purpose of building bridges between the various factions within the GOP to unite behind a candidate that is a viable conservative that can win next November. It's a big task and I realize that. But it's something that I'm very passionate about and something that I'm committed to.
REHMNorm Ornstein, talk about this Free America Party and whether you think it has or can become a strong movement within the Republican Party. Now you've got the Tea Party, now you've got this.
ORNSTEINThere's an awful lot of fragmentation going on. But there's another phenomenon here, too, as well. You know, in 1973, you had a group created called the Republican Study Committee in the House. It started with about 10 or 20 members. It was the right-wing caucus. It was a group trying to pull the Party over to the right. They were more the fringe members at that point. Currently the Republican Study Committee has about 80 or 85 percent of the members of the House caucus but they're not conservative enough.
ORNSTEINSo you have the Freedom Caucus that's formed that's 50 members who are trying to pull it even further in a direction of mostly -- and Julianne says there are some pragmatists there, and there may well be -- but it's mostly in a more confrontational direction. There are a lot of divisions here that are now playing out and they're going to play out more in the weeks to come, I think in a fashion that's going to be, as Julianne said, it's a daunting task to try and pull those factions together.
REHMI should say.
ORNSTEINIt's very daunting.
REHMSusan Davis, tell us about the process of electing a new speaker.
DAVISWell, first, the Republicans are going to have to meet internally in the Conference. And they will have internal leadership elections. What Boehner leaving does -- and Kevin McCarthy, we should say, has not officially announced he's running for speaker, but it is highly presumed he's going to run and highly presumed he's a favorite, in part, because the only other Republican who could probably give him a run for the money is Paul Ryan and Paul Ryan walked out of the room and said, I'm not running for speaker. So there's no competition on that front. Another Republican, Daniel Webster, a conservative Republican from Florida is running, but he doesn't have the same level of support.
DAVISRepublicans will first meet in Conference and they will hold leadership elections. And they're going to have to not only elect a new speaker but elect down the slate. If McCarthy seeks to move up, it's going to reshuffle the entire deck. So they will hold these elections internally but the speaker must be elected by the entire House as the constitutional officer. So they will go to the floor -- it is unclear whether they're going to do this before Boehner leaves or after -- but they could do it before or after, we don't know that yet. They haven't announced the date.
DAVISAnd then they will do it literally by roll call. The call members in alphabetical order and they have to stand up and say a name. And they have to go through -- they go through the entire list of the House and the speaker must be elected by a majority, not a plurality. So in this case, assuming all 435 members are in the chamber and voting, the next speaker would need 218 votes to become -- to be elected by the full House. If you do not get the majority, they literally start back over with a second ballot.
DAVISAnd you keep voting until you get a majority. Now, that has not happened in modern times. Boehner, in the two elections he had as speaker, he lost about 12 Republicans in 2011, he lost 25 in 2013. And so, you know, you don't have to get complete unanimity within the Party, but you do need a majority of the House.
REHMAnd what about Democrats?
DAVISYou know, when I talked to Democrats about this, they more likely say that they do not want to get involved in a Republican leadership fight. Now, Democrats will probably vote for Nancy Pelosi, although she, too, in these speaker elections, has had people say names other than herself. If it becomes more complicated -- I've talked to Democrats who might say they might just vote present, and say this is a Republican fight, this is a Republican battle and we're not going to get involved.
YORKWell this is also where the numbers inside the Republican Conference come into play. So you do have 188 Democrats. They're probably just not going to be in play here. But you have -- if you need to get that magic 218 number, you have 247 Republicans. Well, it shouldn't be a problem if almost all of them support you. But that Freedom Caucus again, 30 to 40 people -- if 30 of them are not for Kevin McCarthy or somebody else, they fall short of 218. And that is where -- that is how these most conservative members have exercised their influence in the shutdown in 2013 and in every other conflict inside the caucus.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Norm.
ORNSTEINYou know, this is critical as we look at the month ahead, Diane. We have one month, assuming that this election doesn't occur before Boehner leaves, and I doubt that it will. Because what Boehner is now pledging to do is try and clean up a lot of the mess for the next speaker -- ideally for him, before Kevin McCarthy...
REHMWhat does that mean?
ORNSTEIN...which means bringing up a number of things, not waiting until the very end, as he has done before, that will keep the government running, which we now do until December, but very possibly through the entire fiscal year. We have a transportation, an infrastructure bill that's been sitting there for a very long time that needs to be funded, maybe funded with a gas tax, which would get a majority of support on the floor. We've got the debt ceiling. If Boehner does all of those things and if, by the way, the continuing resolution keeps the Export-Import Bank going, here's another name to keep in mind: Jeb Hensarling, who is favored by a lot of conservatives, waiting in the wings.
ORNSTEINAnd if there's a backlash against what Boehner does in the next month, we may see a more interesting speaker's race, or at least we're now starting to look at who might replace Kevin McCarthy down the road if these battles continue.
REHMBut suppose Republicans say, We want this election now. We don't want to wait until after he resigns. Who's got the authority to do that? Can they do it? Susan.
DAVISTechnically, they could. The way that the House Republican Conference work is you need at least 50 members to call for a special meeting. They're going to do that already. Peter Roskam is a Republican from Illinois who is also potentially looking to get back into leadership, who -- he has already written a letter that will force a meeting. And if you get enough members onboard, you could call for elections.
REHMJulianne, would you like to see the election before Boehner steps down or wait and let him do what he wants to do?
THOMPSONI think that we need to follow the normal procedure. And I think, when it comes to Congressman McCarthy, I think his big challenge is not going to be the election, I think it's going to be messaging. The conference knows that he can navigate the waters very well. But he needs to communicate to the base that he will govern, as he was elected to do, but he will do it by building consensus without compromising values or core principles. And if I were him, I would not -- I would try very hard to not make the same mistakes that Boehner did when it comes to alienation. He alienated the social conservatives, then he alienated fiscal conservatives and, finally, the defense hawks with the Iran deal.
THOMPSONAnd I think McCarthy may have the record and the moral authority and the support to do so.
REHMJulianne, would you like to see the government shut down over the Planned Parenthood issue?
THOMPSONI don't know that the statement is really framed that fairly. I think the real questions is, why would the president of the United States want to shut down the government through his veto power if Republicans uphold their fiduciary responsibility to their constituents and refuse to give federal taxpayer money, our money, to an organization whose practices are abhorrent to the vast majority of Americans, especially as shown by the videos? And I think we also need to realize the bulk of federal money isn't coming from the CR, it's coming from Medicaid. And there are many ways to tackle the problem but I don't believe caving is one of them.
THOMPSONAnd just the fact that many are is exactly the reason that the American voters are saying, no more to business as usual in Washington.
REHMJohn Boehner said yesterday, he's going to examine those videos very carefully, Susan.
DAVISNo, absolutely. I mean the Planned Parenthood argument in Congress has -- it's been centered on this funding bill. But it's -- there's going to be way more to it than that. Tomorrow, the House Ways and Means Committee is going to start looking at reconciliation legislation, which is a really boring term to talk about a budget bill that can get through the Senate without Democratic support -- it doesn't need 60, it only needs 50. Republicans are looking at reconciliation as a way to defund Planned Parenthood, which is a way to get a bill on President Obama's desk.
REHMSusan Davis of NPR. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd a number of people are asking us to please explain how John Boehner's resignation helps to stop the shutdown of the federal government. Byron York.
YORKWell, if he's still the Speaker, he's essentially a lame duck. And he is, I think, determined to make sure that the funding gets passed in time. Remember back in 2013, the whole Obamacare defunding thing. Boehner just, he said, he said to his rebellious caucus, I'm just going to go with you. You want to do this, we'll do this. He went over the falls with them and he's just not going to do that now. And if he's the Speaker of the House, that's what's going to happen.
ORNSTEINBut it's only for a brief period, Diane. What's happening is that there's now an agreement that Boehner will be able to bring up a short term continuing resolution to take us until December, probably mid-December. After that, we're going to get yet another battle. And it is very unlikely that a short term extension that will keep the government open after October 1, when the new fiscal year begins, will carry over for the entire year unless Boehner really makes a push. Which would be very un-Boehner like.
REHMAll right, let's open the phone and go to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Brett, you're on the air.
BRETTGood morning. Thank you. I'm (unintelligible) this weekend when we heard that Boehner had quit, I was down with my cousin and some friends and we let out a big cheer. We felt that he's weak. We want a politician to vote, as they say they're going to vote. Okay, the president can override it. But make him, make the president do it and stand up and say, we don't agree with what the president's doing.
REHMOkay. Julianne, how do you feel about that?
THOMPSONAnd I understand the frustration. As was stated earlier, they want them to try. And, you know, it becomes increasingly clear every time I talk to a lot of my friends in Washington that I'm coming from a completely outside the beltway perspective. Inside the Washington bubble, attitude seems to prevail that it's incumbent upon the citizen to keep quiet or we're the problem. But unity is not unilateral. And what I'm hearing from a lot of people in Washington is if you expect your leaders to govern the way they campaign, somehow you're a radical.
THOMPSONSo, I think that, you know, it's incumbent upon the entire Republican Party, from leadership at the RNC to leadership in Congress, to the base, to come together.
REHMSo, we've been talking a lot about Kevin McCarthy. I understand, Julianne, that you favored, actually, someone like Congressman Lynn Westmoreland of the Third District in Georgia.
THOMPSONWell, of course, Congressman Westmoreland has no intention of running. I mean, I use his name as someone who represents the values that I would like to see in the Speakership. I mean, he's somebody that clearly upholds conservative values. He keeps his campaign promises. And while at the same time, he understands Washington and that things are not as easy as they always seem to be. And he knows that you have to build consensus. And that you have to sometimes find compromise, so long as you don't compromise your core principles.
REHMBut if you've got a president ready to veto, I mean, where does this take you, Byron?
YORKWell, if I could go back to what Brett, the caller in Pennsylvania said.
YORKAbout wanting somebody to try. On this Planned Parenthood thing, there are a lot of Republicans, conservatives, social conservatives, including many who vote in the early primary and caucus states in the Presidential election, who want Congress to do something. Who want the Republicans to do something. And I don't think it's going to be enough for them to say, hey, we're going to appoint this committee. We're really going to look into this. I don't think they're going to be satisfied with that. So, whoever is in the Republican leadership is going to have to figure out something to do on this.
YORKAnd if they lose, fine, but I think that they, a lot of these conservatives look at the Iran Deal, where there actually was a vote and you got, what, 42 Democrats, I think, to stand up for the president on that. It was a clarifying event. Republicans, at least conservatives, are going to want to see something like that on Planned Parenthood as well.
DAVISCan I also say, too, that a lot of these conservatives not only are frustrated at the president, but they're frustrated at the Senate. And one of the recent things we've heard from a lot of these Tea Party type conservatives, and I use that as shorthand. Is they want to rewrite the filibuster rules in the Senate. There is even talk in the House, which, you know, the House always wants to change the Senate, but there is talk that they would like to see the Senate completely eliminate the filibuster, to get rid of the 60 vote threshold, which would, understatement, completely rewrite Democracy in this country.
ORNSTEINWell, there are a lot of speeches from Democrats a few years ago. They could just pull those speeches and say the same thing.
YORKYou know, this brings us back to that larger reality and to Bob Dole back in the 1990s. The House and Senate are very different chambers. Mitch McConnell is not going to blow up the filibuster. He knows, and what he will say repeatedly is Democrats may very well take a majority next time if there's a Democratic president. Then we're in a completely different situation. It's something that the minority uses. And what we're going to see is Mitch McConnell may be the biggest loser right now from John Boehner leaving.
YORKHe is going to be the focal point of the ire of Kevin McCarthy, the Freedom Caucus in the House, a lot of people out there, because the idea of getting these things to the President so that he can veto them, so you can draw the lines, doesn't work if the Senate can't pass them. And they won't pass them. And remember one other thing, which is Mitch McConnell looking out for his Senate majority has to deal with vulnerable incumbents like Kelly Ayotte in North Car, in New Hampshire.
YORKMark Kirk in Illinois. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Blue states where you can't go off in a very confrontational direction without blowing them up. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin. So, he's got a different group of people to protect. There aren't people like that representing vulnerable swing districts for Republicans in the House.
REHMHere's an email from Jake who says, Boehner also gave up his seat. Where's that going? It seems like an important detail we haven't discussed. Susan.
DAVISWhen he announced his resignation, he would resign not only the Speakership, but his office in Congress.
DAVISOhio, I'm not specific of their exact state rules, but likely it will trigger a special election, and they'll have an election this year and they'll fill the seat. And it's a very Republican district, so shy of -- it's hard to see the seat not being held by a Republican.
YORKOne interesting about Kevin McCarthy, if he becomes the Speaker, he's from a very different district than Boehner was. Boehner, safe Republican seat. Kevin McCarthy's seat is 35, his district is 35 percent Hispanic. It is actually 50 percent minority. It's a very different seat, and Kevin McCarthy, I think, will have to keep in mind the folks back home more, perhaps, than Boehner did.
REHMAll right. Let's go now to Lansing, Michigan. Joe, you're on the air.
JOEYeah, hi Diane.
JOEThanks so much. It just -- the word, you know, campaign promises. It's just amazing to me how people are fixated on that. That seems to be the whole rub. Campaign promises are indications of what a candidate would like to do. But pragmatism and compromise are not dirty words. We have to be realistic about what they can do. And I think a lot of people are just fed up with let's do something just for show. Let's do something and make the President sign. It's ridiculous. It's just a wasted of time.
JOEAnd your previous discussion commenter on how the House can do one thing but the Senate can do another is a prime example. Why bother if you know it's not going to get to the President's desk?
REHMJulianne. Do you want to comment?
THOMPSONI believe that that's true to some degree, but I think that there has been, you know, so many times on core principle issues when you're talking about Planned Parenthood and the videos. When you're talking about the Iran Nuclear Deal, core principles is the Republican Party things that are very important to the base, that they just feel that have been compromised on. And I understand that frustration, and under those circumstances, I do understand the frustration that comes with campaigning one way and governing another.
THOMPSONBecause those are the basics. If we can't get those things right, we can't get anything right.
REHMHas anybody in this room seen the videos? Norm.
ORNSTEINI've seen -- I haven't seen all 19 hours of them. I have seen enough to realize that these are like an awful lot of other videos that have been done that include a lot of very heavy editing. And, you know, what, you've got a couple of issues here Diane. One is the whole question of fetal tissue research, which gets almost no attention. It was fetal tissue research that really brought us the polio vaccine. And an awful lot of other research going on. Now, there is a real question about sale of fetal tissue.
ORNSTEINBut what you see in the videos is Planned Parenthood people repeatedly saying, we're not in this for making money. It's recovering costs. But that's a major part of this. The other part of it, though, is this is a much bigger underlying battle over both contraception and abortion. And Planned Parenthood is the poster child, now, for people who want to end both.
YORKWell, I've not seen all of the many, many, many hours either. But I do think Planned Parenthood supporters are kind of comforting themselves with the idea that these are edited, that they're fake, somehow fake. The core issues of harvesting organs from these aborted fetuses or babies is just there. And you have to remember, it's making this huge impression in the pro-life community. They're against abortion already, and they're seeing this take place. And they would disagree with Norm about the -- whether it's being done for profit or not, because there are references to price.
YORKAnd the prices seem kind of flexible in these videos. So, I think that support of Planned Parenthood should not just comfort themselves and say it's edited. Because I think the opponents here have a real point, but it all comes back to your actual position on abortion.
DAVISI would also add that it's important to remember that particularly in the House Republican conference, that this is like issue A for many of their members. That this is the reason why they ran for office, to, against abortion. Anti-abortion Republicans. And this -- these videos and what's included in them, although we should also say that there's nothing in the videos that has been seen -- is illegal. It is legal discussions of a program that Republicans oppose. And I think a lot of times the crassness by which I think Planned Parenthood officials are seeing.
DAVISOr the casual nature by which they discuss these programs has really incensed Republicans. But that it's an incredibly passionate issue for many Republican lawmakers.
REHMJulianne. Do you want to comment?
THOMPSONI do. I do. Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, watching Dr. Nucatola -- and I have seen the videos, watching Dr. Nucatola eat her salad and drink her wine, talking about crushing one body part or another body part in order to salvage an intact liver, because so many people really want the liver, is abhorrent. And please explain to me a context in which this is not horrific.
ORNSTEINI would just want to add that John Boehner, if we're getting at what happened to Boehner, Boehner met with members of the Freedom Caucus and others. And people who are most intense about these issues, the ones that Susan was talking about. And basically said, I'm going to bring up a whole series of bills that will try to focus on this issue and block some of these practices. And we're just not going to be able to stop the funding because we don’t want to shut down the government.
ORNSTEINAnd got nowhere with his members. That frustration, as much as anything, is what led him to say, I just can't do anything now. And to leave.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The question you raise Norm is not just about abortion, but also contraception.
ORNSTEINYeah, and of course, you know, most of the Planned Parenthood clinics around the country don't do abortions and very few of them actually do the fetal tissue stuff, the intact liver that Julianne was talking about was going for fetal tissue research to deal with terrible, debilitating diseases. But what Planned Parenthood does do is a lot of examinations of women for cervical cancer, for sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception. And so you have, for example, Bobby Jindal bragging that he shut off the funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana that don't do abortions.
ORNSTEINAnd don't do the fetal tissue stuff. And it was cutting off their ability to do contraception is basically what it comes down to. So, these issues get conflated in a lot of cases.
YORKNow, Susan can correct me if I'm wrong. I believe the Republicans made an important point of trying to keep funding for these services. The same as it had been, but take it away from Planned Parenthood and to other health service providers. Is that correct?
DAVISThat is correct. That was the intention of their legislation.
REHMAt the same time, how can you guarantee that that money goes into health services?
YORKWell, if these are organizations that provide, you know, pap smears, contraceptives, et cetera, that would seem to be not such a big problem. Their view was the fundability of money with Planned Parenthood where Planned Parenthood said, we strictly separate the money that we use to provide health services with those that we use to provide abortions.
ORNSTEINAnd those states around the country have said that basically, there are not clinics that can do that. They don't have those services to provide, especially to poor women.
REHMAll right. Final caller in Cincinnati, Ohio. Casey, you're on the air.
CASEYThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
CASEYI will stay very concise, but I've stayed on the line long enough now to hear some of the arguments going on. I never thought, as a liberal, that I would be looking forward to the day that John Boehner was Speaker again. I've railed on him a lot myself, but it was for the opposite left reasons. And I worry, I hope your callers understand that this right extremist attitude in the House and Congress is holding our government hostage. I worry about the direction of this country because of these -- for example, for the last six minutes, the conversation was skewed to Planned Parenthood.
CASEYReasonable people have to resort to having conversations held hostage because of extremists' ideals that are not based on fact. And your panelist from the Freedom Caucus is a prime example. Governing is all about give and take. It is, you cannot govern from one side of the aisle.
REHMAll right. Julianne, do you want to comment?
THOMPSONSure. I'd like to pose the same question to the caller. First of all, have you seen the Planned Parenthood videos? I mean, you're calling these extremist issues. I mean, I've talked to pro-life and pro-choice people that have seen the videos. And again, what I said before about watching the doctor eat her salad and drink her wine and talk about crushing one body part or another to save a certain organ to harvest. Could you explain to me a context in which this is not horrific? How does that amount to an extremist view, to find that abhorrent?
REHMAnd Julianne, I'm afraid that's going to have to be the last word. We'll leave it at that. I hope we don't shut down the government for a lot of reasons. Including, for those who are on Social Security, including for the continuation of government jobs, government workers. It's a mess when the government gets shut down. My own personal view. Now, I thank you all. Norman Ornstein, Susan Davis, Byron York, Julianne Thompson. Thanks for being here.
DAVISThanks for having us.
REHMAnd, thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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