First, Republicans said that if they had control of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, they could govern.
Then, Republicans said that if they had control of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate and the presidency, they could govern.
Now, Republicans have complete control of the federal government and, on the anniversary of the achievement of their goal, they proved that they could not govern by creating a crisis so severe that the federal government shut down.
The problem is no longer one of control for the Republicans. They have that.
What they lack is any sense of perspective, and proportionality.
They think that control of the legislative and executive branches of government means that they can do whatever they want — no matter how irrational economically and socially, no matter how cruel, no matter how destructive. But that is never how the governing process was supposed to work. Even when presidents and their parties have had overwhelming majorities, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in the 1930s, as Lyndon Johnson did in the 1960s, they have recognized a need to strike balances and to seek bipartisan balance. Even when presidents have enjoyed overwhelming personal popularity, as Dwight Eisenhower did in the 1950s and Ronald Reagan did in the 1980s, they have reached across the aisle to bring members of the loyal opposition into the governing process. There is a long tradition of wise leaders from both parties seeking common ground on behalf of the American people — not to advance their own partisan passions and ideological whims.
Unfortunately, the Republicans who are currently in charge refuse to recognize this history, and this possibility.
Nor do they recognize that their majorities are tenuous at best.
Donald Trump lost the popular vote contest with Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 2.9 million ballots. He secured only 46 percent of the vote and assumed the presidency only after his campaign narrowly prevailed in three battleground states that provided him with an advantage in the Electoral College. Though that advantage was enough to make Trump president, he has no historical or contemporary mandate. In fact, as political analyst Nate Silver noted last year, Trump’s Electoral College advantage was “decidedly below-average.” “There have been 54 presidential elections since the ratification of the 12th Amendment in 1804,” he explained. “Of those 54 cases, Trump’s share of the electoral vote — assuming there are no faithless electors or results overturned by recounts — ranks 44th.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has even less of a mandate. Only one-third of Senate seats were up for election in 2016, and the count is complicated by state-based quirks. (The Republicans were eliminated in the California primary, setting up a November contest between two Democrats; and Louisiana’s Senate runoff wasn't held until Dec. 10.) With that said, Democrats actually picked up two U.S. Senate seats in 2016 and reduced the Republican majority in the chamber. And voters across the country cast dramatically more ballots for Democratic Senate candidates than Republicans. USA Today reported shortly after the election, “The White House may not be the only institution in Washington that Democrats lost on Tuesday despite getting more votes than Republicans. It turns out that Democrats also got more votes for the U.S. Senate than Republicans, and yet Republicans maintained their majority on Capitol Hill.” The final count had Democratic Senate candidates gathering 51.4 million votes to 40.4 million for Republican candidates. So it’s absurd to suggest that voters handed Senate Republicans a blank check to remake America. They didn’t.
It is equally absurd to suggest that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, has a mandate. Republican House candidates earned just 49 percent of the vote across the country in 2016. Far from receiving the endorsement of an enthusiastic electorate, Ryan’s House caucus lost six seats. By comparison, when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 (with 53 percent of the vote in a higher turnout election), Democratic candidates for the House won 13 million more votes, for a 53-43 advantage over their Republican rivals. Ryan’s current majority has more to do with gerrymandering and the speaker’s ability to raise money from billionaires and Wall Street interests than the enthusiasm of the American people for Republican hegemony.
These numbers tell us that Congressman Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, is precisely right to declare: “Republicans have control of the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. However, complete Republican control is not a license to make outrageous demands and break promises to the American people.”
Republicans went to extremes during the budgetary wrangling that preceded the shutdown, as Pocan noted.
“For the last several years, Speaker Ryan and (former Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty) Murray have had an agreement on funding parity between the Department of Defense and nondefense domestic programs,” said the congressman. “Until now, Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell have honored that agreement. With their latest spending proposal, Republicans have once again abandoned the middle class and are refusing to negotiate. Most Americans want a long-term funding solution for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers. And most Americans want to protect the futures of 800,000 young Dreamers. These are not complicated ideas, nor are they exclusive of each other. President Trump, Majority Leader McConnell, and Speaker Ryan must offer Democrats a seat at the table and address these urgent issues.”
Pocan said the American people “deserve better than the hostage-style negotiating tactics that Republicans are undertaking.”
That is a truth Paul Ryan's Republicans need to recognize not only when government shutdowns are in play, but as we move forward on other crucial issues. If they fail do so do, then they need to be removed.
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