Former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) is hawking his new book, On the House: A Washington Memoir, with a media tour playing up an image of his gruff demeanor and colorful denunciations of his intramural Republican rivals, who he blames for turning the Republican Party into an extremist political vehicle.
But something important is being lost in all this: Boehner’s effort to clean up his own legacy as a major player in that political radicalization. Instead, he is courting media outlets that worship a mythical bipartisanship while ignoring Republican intransigence — such as the politics that Boehner himself practiced during his entire tenure leading Republicans in the House.
Chuck Todd let Boehner off easy on immigration reform
Boehner kicked off Sunday morning with an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, during which host Chuck Todd asked about the effort to control the rise of white nationalism in the Republican Party, as exemplified by the recent attempt to start an America First Caucus dedicating itself to “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and opposing immigration.
Todd asked Boehner about the role played by Fox News and other right-wing media in fomenting bigotry and stopping the reform of immigration laws — but he failed to grill the former GOP leader on his own role in playing to those same right-wing elements.
The fact is, for all the times that the media’s obsession with bipartisanship is a hollow charade, there really was genuine bipartisan cooperation on this particular issue. The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in June 2013 by a 68-32 margin — only for it to die in the Republican-controlled House, where Boehner gave in to far-right members such as former Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL).
Boehner also stood in the way of basic democracy on this issue, reassuring his caucus that he would not allow a vote on any bill that did not have a majority among House Republicans, even if the bill could have achieved bipartisan majority in the House as a whole. (This practice among House Republicans is known as the “Hastert Rule” — named for former speaker and now-convicted criminal Dennis Hastert.)
Furthermore, Todd should know all of this history — he co-wrote pieces at NBC News on how Boehner and House Republicans disregarded the Senate bill, ostensibly to pursue a House bill, but noted that “conservatives are now creating new excuses” to oppose immigration reform.
Indeed, Todd raised the problem of radicalization in the Republican caucus as the reason that immigration reform had failed. But instead of following up on Boehner’s implausible denial of the problem and his attempt to blame President Barack Obama, Todd simply moved on to the next topic.
CNN’s Dana Bash let Boehner skate on gun laws and finding “common ground”
During Boehner’s other Sunday appearance, on CNN’s State of the Union, the former speaker of the House bemoaned the lack of “common ground” on reforming gun laws, both during his time in office — specifically dating back to the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — and also while mass shootings continue in America today.
Bash had asked Boehner if he regretted not passing gun reforms at the time — and then she let him off far too easily on his answer, especially with a softball question over whether it be a “top priority” for him today. The fact is that Boehner’s own response to the horrific killings in December 2012 was a complete pattern of inaction.
At first, he refused to hold any immediate vote on gun reform, on the nominal basis that he was waiting for proposals from the White House. Then, when the White House unveiled its proposals, Boehner passed the buck -- referring them for review to House committees and offering to consider any potential bills that might come from the Senate. (Meanwhile, other Republicans in Congress and the National Rifle Association were gearing up to sink any such proposals.)
And while Boehner noted that Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) had been “working on this across the aisle,” no further explanation was made of what exactly that entailed. Although Toomey had joined with centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in the months after Sandy Hook to propose a modest expansion of background checks — only for it to be blocked via a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate — the measure did not receive support from Boehner in the House.
Once that was done, Boehner simply continued to stonewall: “The relevant committees are working on this issue. I'm going to continue to work with them, and when we have a decision to announce, we'll announce it.”
And that was that, becoming a case study of Republicans’ mounting defiance against any “common ground,” while Boehner did nothing about it — not that Bash saw fit to remind him of any of those details.
Boehner’s snow job is already working with other mainstream outlets
Earlier this month, Politico ran an essay by Boehner, billed with the lofty introduction: “How America’s center-right party started to lose its mind, as told by the man who tried to keep it sane.”
And on Sunday, the site ran a news piece on Boehner’s Meet the Press appearance, noting his statement that “one of the top regrets from his time as leader of the House was the failure to reach a deal on immigration reform with former President Barack Obama.”
Yet, Politico had documented in the past all of the ways that Boehner stalled on immigration reform, while appeasing far-right House members who threatened his speakership every time he made the slightest feint toward compromise.
On Monday, Boehner sat down for an online interview with Washington Post senior congressional correspondent Paul Kane, who at one point remarked, “One of the things that really marked your almost five years as speaker was this continued search for the big deal,” such as on fiscal issues — or implausibly, as Kane listed, on immigration and gun reform — and asked Boehner which “deal” he regretted missing out on the most.
Boehner initially brought up fiscal issues, but when the subject turned to immigration Kane seemed to remember the actual record:
If Kane knew that Boehner never actually did anything to advance immigration reforms, then why did he ask him about having such a reputation of seeking a “big deal” on it in the first place? Instead, the interview quickly moved on — leaving Boehner to continue whitewashing his long record of partisan obstruction.