DANA MILBANK: An upending of reason in the House

Washington post writers group Published:

WASHINGTON -- After conservatives on Thursday brought down House Speaker John Boehner's bill to address the border crisis, the new House Republican leadership team issued a joint statement declaring that President Obama should fix the problem himself.

"There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action," the leadership quartet proclaimed, "to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries."

Who's in the what now?

Just the day before, House Republicans had voted to sue Obama for using his executive authority. They called him lawless, a usurper, a monarch, a tyrant -- all for postponing deadlines in the implementation of Obamacare. Now they were begging him to take executive action to compensate for their own inability to act -- even though, in this case, accelerating the deportation of thousands of unaccompanied children coming from Central America would likely require Obama to ignore a 2008 law.

This was not a momentary lapse, but a wholesale upending of reason.

Apparently, if Obama is using his executive authority to advance a policy House Republicans support, it's a meritorious exercise of presidential authority; if he uses that same authority to aid a policy they oppose such as amnesty for illegal immigrants, it's time to write up articles of impeachment.

There are real questions about Obama's abuses of power -- say, the spying on Americans by the National Security Agency or the use of drones to kill U.S. citizens overseas -- but the opposition party has left those largely untouched. The planned lawsuit was a bone thrown to conservatives to quiet their impeachment talk.

But the efforts to placate conservatives aren't working. The new House GOP leadership team took over on Friday, but a mere two hours after Eric Cantor gave his valedictory as majority leader on the House floor, his successor did a face-plant.

All morning, GOP leaders had been predicting that they had sufficient Republican votes to pass Boehner's border bill. But then conservatives, under pressure from Sen. Ted Cruz and far-right interest groups, began to go squishy, and the new majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, announced that he was pulling the border bill from the floor and that members could depart early for their five-week summer break.

What followed was as close as Congress gets to one of those fistfights in the Taiwanese parliament. Boos and jeers rained down on the new leader. The speaker pro tempore, Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., banged the gavel violently for order. Some lawmakers had to be called back from Reagan National Airport.

The hapless new majority leader, and his equally hapless new majority whip, Steve Scalise, called Republicans to an emergency meeting, where after fierce argument it was decided ... that they would meet again on Friday.

Boehner, earlier in the day, tried to be philosophical. "I take my job one day at a time," he said.

The problem with day-by-day leadership, though, is inconsistency: What you do on Thursday has a way of contradicting what you said on Wednesday.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2014, Washington Post Writers Group

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