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GOP Struggling With Leadership Role    02/28 14:21

   The stunning House defeat Friday of a three-week spending bill for the 
Department of Homeland Security exposed Speaker John Boehner's weakness in the 
face of rebellious conservatives.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two months into full Republican control of Congress, GOP 
leaders are struggling to demonstrate they really are in charge.

   The stunning House defeat Friday of a three-week spending bill for the 
Department of Homeland Security exposed Speaker John Boehner's weakness in the 
face of rebellious conservatives.

   It also again demonstrated his need to rely on Democrats at critical moments 
as the minority party's agreement to a one-week spending bill helped the 
speaker get it over the finish line with only hours to spare before a 
threatened agency shutdown.

   President Barack Obama signed the bill shortly before midnight.

   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., already had bowed to 
Democrats' demands and stripped the contentious provisions rolling back Obama's 
immigration policies from his chamber's version of the Homeland Security 
spending bill.

   The two leaders face different, and often competing, challenges as they try 
to produce the responsible governance they promised voters after November 
elections, when Republicans won control of the Senate and increased their House 
majority to the largest in 70 years.

   Two months into the new Congress, the severe limits to their powers are 
confronting Boehner, R-Ohio, and McConnell as they aim to chart a course for 
the final two years of Obama's presidency. That path could help lead their 
party back into the White House, and perhaps even produce a few legislative 
achievements.

   "Obviously we're not getting good results, are we? I base everything on 
results," said Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, one of the many Republicans 
frustrated with the GOP's performance, particularly on the Homeland Security 
bill.

   "Our leadership set the stage for this," Fleming said. "Yet we didn't really 
see much messaging, coordination or communication."

   Even though Boehner has large numbers on his side, it's still not enough to 
ensure he can line up a majority on any given bill, especially on issues such 
as immigration, education or abortion. The GOP advantage is 245-188 with two 
vacancies.

   A frustrated Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who heads the House 
Intelligence Committee chairman, lashed out at "a small group of phony 
conservative members who have no credible policy proposals and no political 
strategy to stop Obama's lawlessness" and seem to be "unaware that they can't 
advance conservatism by playing fantasy football with their voting cards."

   McConnell is contending with Senate rules that give important rights to the 
minority party, which Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada is adept at 
exploiting.

   Republicans hold 54 seats, but that is six short of the 60 needed to ensure 
passage of most legislation.

   Democrats united against and ultimately blocked GOP attempts to use the 
Homeland Security spending bill as the measure to overturn Obama's immigration 
directives extending work permits to millions of people in the country 
illegally.

   Many Republicans campaigned for re-election last fall on promises to stop 
Obama on immigration, and their inability to do so is infuriating to 
conservatives. That's why 52 of them in the House voted down a three-week 
agency spending bill Friday night in a humiliating defeat for Boehner and other 
Republican leaders.

   "The problem is there are a whole lot of us, including leadership, who put 
out statements saying Obama's executive order was illegal, unconstitutional. 
How do you backtrack off of that?" asked Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.

   GOP leaders regrouped to offer a one-week bill, but it required the blessing 
of House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She assured fellow 
Democrats the vote would pave the way for passage of a full-year bill next 
week, without the immigration language that has drawn a White House veto threat.

   Boehner aides denied that any such assurances had been given.

   The chaos was the most high-profile debacle for the GOP so far this year, 
but not the only one. Earlier in the day, House Republican leaders shelved an 
education overhaul bill amid conservative opposition. Previously they had 
retreated on border security legislation and an abortion bill.

   In the Senate, McConnell has devoted much of the past two months to debates 
and votes related to the Homeland Security bill, as well as passage of the 
Keystone XL oil pipeline bill, which Obama has vetoed.

   Along the way, there were lower-profile achievements.

   The Senate approved Obama's defense secretary nominee, Ash Carter, on a 
resounding bipartisan vote. The House passed bills aimed at reining in Obama on 
taxes and regulation, although the measures are likely to hit a dead end in the 
Senate, just as they did when Republicans were in charge.

   But the GOP majority has been defined as much by infighting among 
Republicans and between the House and the Senate as by any achievements. That 
raises questions about Congress' ability to accomplish the many tasks before 
it, including passing a budget, increasing the nation's borrowing authority and 
passing a new use of force agreement to battle Islamic State militants.

   "The DHS funding fight is the first test of the new Republican Congress, and 
so far they're failing," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "If the Republicans 
can't even fund something as simple as Homeland Security, we shudder to think 
what will happen when it's time to fund the whole government or raise the debt 
ceiling."


(KA)


 
 
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