Since the Republicans took the majority in 2011 House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa has been investigating everything he could, hoping to find corruption or a scandal in the Obama Administration. So far, they have found little to nothing.
However, they’ve been seduced by wishful thinking about a botched Justice Department investigation called “Fast and Furious.” Programs to track guns (so called gun walking) started back during the Bush Administration and were designed to generate information about Mexican drug cartels. It ended when it became clear that some of the guns had found their way into criminal hands and had been used in crimes against innocents, perhaps even a US border guard.
That’s it. Fortune magazine has investigated this extensively and concluded there was never any intent to have the guns fall into the wrong hands. The Justice Department is conducting a thorough internal investigation. Congress has also found no evidence of wrong doing. But conspiracy theories on the far right came up with truly absurd claims — that this was an attempt to promote gun control by increasing violent crime, or that somehow the Justice Department was in collusion with Mexican drug cartels.
There is no evidence for any of those claims. When the problems in the program came to light it was ended and ultimately thousands of documents were given the House Oversight committee. It should have been enough; in fact, when the Committee Chair Darrell Issa said he wanted more, Attorney General Eric Holder obliged. When it became clear that Issa was simply fishing, Holder refused to give over documents that deal with internal White House discussions, likely between Obama and Holder. As President Bush (and all recent Presidents) have done in similar circumstances, President Obama declared executive privilege.
So why hold Holder in contempt – President Obama is the one declaring executive privilege? It’s pure political theater. The NRA and others who want a conspiracy theory to be true kept putting pressure on Issa to dig more, even though nothing, absolutely nothing, had been found to indicate deeper problems. Beyond that, the GOP’s political wing hopes to at least create the illusion of scandal to help diminish President Obama’s reputation and increase their chances of defeating him. The NRA even announced they would be “scoring” the contempt vote, pressuring a small number of moderate Democrats in conservative districts to join in the contempt vote.
I believe this was part of a clear GOP strategy to use Thursday as the start of a major assault on President Obama, with the ambitious goal of completely redefining his Presidency. Consider the tiing:
At 10:00 Thursday the Supreme Court was set to rule on the Affordable Care Act. Intrade gave it a 75% chance of being overturned, and pundits left and right seemed resigned to or energized by the fact it seemed almost certain that the court would reject the law. It became entrenched conventional wisdom that the law was all but dead. Rush Limbaugh said that Republicans should “spike the football” when it’s overturned, and a lot of conservatives were eager to hear the ruling.
Here’s how the GOP plan was supposed to operate:
1. The Court would announce that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, thereby dooming the entire law because without the mandate it could not be funded. They’d quickly seize on this as a failure of the President on his keystone issue, arguing that Obama can now claim no lasting accomplishment and making his first term a failure.
2. The House would then hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, the first time ever that the House and an Attorney General could not negotiate to settle an issue like this. On top of the health care ruling, it would appear as if the Obama Administration was imploding. This double whammy would be a stepping stone to an all out attack on the President, heaping ridicule, scorn and faux pity on Obama who would be painted as having not been up to the task of being leading the country.
3. This day would mark the beginning of a redefinition of the Obama Presidency from being an historic activist one to a failed and incompetent one, setting up a victory for Mitt Romney and the GOP in the fall.
Since January 20, 2009 the goal of the GOP has been, as Senator Mitch McConnell said, to deny President Obama re-election. They’ve refused to cooperate on major issues, pushed the country to the brink over a debt ceiling increase, and have increased the scope of partisanship in Washington. This isn’t to say the Democrats weren’t often doing the sae thing, but compare how often the Democrats had been willing to work with President Bush to the way the GOP has dealt with Obama. The difference is striking. The Republicans in Washington had power and they lost it. They want it back. They can taste it.
No doubt the talking points had been handed out; the assault on the President was about to begin. Then incredibly one conservative Washington insider proved above politics: Chief Justice John Roberts. Suddenly the joy on the right turned to anger, depression and shock as so-called Obamacare was ruled constitutional. Obama emerged triumphant.
The contempt vote against Holder took place in this context but it was nothing like they had imagined it would be. The Democrats staged a major walk out, and pundits decried the politicization of the issue and the grandstanding of Chairman Issa, who achieves nothing real by this vote. At best it could make it to the courts and take months to get resolved, but most likely it just goes nowhere. Rather than make the Obama administration look incompetent, the result was self-inflicted damage to the GOP.
The events of June 28th represent a defeat for the GOP. Their efforts to paint Obama as a failed or ineffective President have so far fallen short. Obama remains the favorite, is ahead in the polls, and has solid leads in important swing states. This was to be their shot at seriously wounding the President before the campaign starts in earnest. Few think Mitt Romney can win by enticing people to vote for Romney; they hope to convince people to vote against Obama.
The election is still months away and much can happen. But the way events Thursday played themselves out had to be very depressing for Romney camp insiders and gives the President a tailwind going into July.