Friday, February 17, 2017

Gaming It Out - Part 2

On why the Republicans in Congress are not pursuing an investigation agenda into the President's ties to Russia, Paul Krugman in his column today produced this quote:

Well, Senator Rand Paul explained it all: “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans.” Does anyone doubt that he was speaking for his whole party?

The thing is, in Congress it is now apparently all facade.   The rules of the Senate require a 60 vote majority to overcome the filibuster.  The Republicans do have a majority, but they are not close to 60 votes, and if the confirmation votes on the Presidential appointments are any indication (those now require only a simple majority given the change in rules instituted when Harry Reid was leading the Democrats) the Republicans might see a couple of defections from their ranks, while the Democrats will hold firm.

Surely Rand Paul knows this.  So he either believes: (a) chest pounding is sufficient and what he and fellow Republicans were meant to do or (b) it is too early to depart from what they said they would do but it may be reasonable to depart from it eventually when it is apparent to all that they can't deliver on their promises.  This leaves also (c) what about the potential liability from not pursuing an investigation agenda if information comes out that the President was part of a conspiracy with the Russians?

It is tempting to consider irrational decision making as a possible explanation, so let's review some alternative possibilities.  (1)  Habit formation.  The Republicans have been the majority in the House since 2011.  They had to face a veto from President Obama that the knew might be coming.  Yet that pursued (a) above throughout this period.  They may have gotten used to "governing" in this manner.  The Senate Republicans have a shorter period where they've been the majority.  They used the filibuster themselves, however, when they were in the minority.  So they should understand that getting things through is extremely difficult now and might find (a) appealing simply for the pr value with their own constituencies.  (2)  The deer in the headlights look.  Shock at the events since the election may not just be with Democratic voters.  If, indeed, this is a real explanation, one wonders when sensibility might return.  (3) Grief.  The first stage, we should recall, is denial.  The question here is: grief about what?  Two candidates are first that the Libertarian strand in the Republican party has died entirely replaced by a populist strand.  Second, on the thought that a house divided cannot stand, the party itself may have died or is in the process of dying.

Some of these explanations offer hope that eventually rationality will return and that (b) remains possible, even if that is not evident now.  We should ask: what will expedite that?

In the previous post, I argued that Republicans might tolerate incompetence in the President if malfeasance can be ruled out.  That is true as long as the incompetence doesn't cut against Republican priorities.  If it did seem damaging, that would be a different matter.  In his column today, David Brooks makes a case for the Bannon-is-in-charge hypothesis.  For the sake of argument, let's say that hypothesis is true.  How do Republicans in Congress view that?  I don't know.  If they are appalled, or become appalled, that would change their approach. 

Does jawboning about a conspiracy with Russia matter here?  Or is that all "cheap talk" and preaching to the choir (meaning it won't move Congressional Republicans)?  There is an Op-Ed in today's NY Times by Evan McMullin, a former C.I.A. officer, who was the chief policy director of the House Republican Conference from January 2015 until August 2016, when he left to run as an independent candidate in the presidential election. You might think the message is credible, given his former position.  But really, there is no news in it for members of Congress.  They made their deal with the devil last summer, having the information in McMullin's piece in hand at the time.  Why would they change now?

Trump supporters, in contrast, didn't have this information.  If they become disillusioned in large numbers, that would be an alternative force that could restore option (b).  In a segment on the Charlie Rose Show earlier in the week about the Flynn resignation, David Ignatius said this investigation will be long and laborious.  The press will stay at it even if Congress does not.  Potentially that could move the segment of public opinion that appears to matter here - Trump supporters.  How long this might take is anyone's guess.

To reiterate the message from the previous post, absent a smoking gun revelation, don't expect dramatic changes to the status quo.  It may not be a situation that we're comfortable with, but we're not in a position to change it.

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