As the public’s view of Congress sinks to a near-incredible low in Gallup’s polling – not only the lowest on record, but also the lowest Gallup has recorded for any institution in the 41-year trend – House Republicans are staying the course. They just elected California Congressman Kevin McCarthy as the new majority leader yesterday, and Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise to fill McCarthy’s former seat as whip. Ezra Klein doubts McCarthy will be much different from Eric Cantor:
They both want to cut taxes. They both voted for the Ryan budget. They both want to repeal Obamacare. And, for all the talk of Cantor’s defeat being about immigration reform, McCarthy has basically the same position on immigration reform: he’s abstractly for immigration reform, but he’s not going to bring any solution to the problem up for a vote. Which is probably as it should be. When the conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru dove deep into polls of tea party supporters, he was comforted by what he found. “Tea party advocates already believed the same things that regular Republicans did. They basically were regular Republicans, just, if you will, more so. The differences between the tea party and ‘establishment Republicans’ have largely concerned style and attitude rather than program and ideology.”
But Al Hunt expects immigration to be just as much a thorn in McCarthy’s side as it was for his predecessor:
McCarthy, who earlier served in the California Assembly, knows how the immigration issue has destroyed the Republican party in his home state ever since then-Governor Pete Wilson went on an anti-immigration campaign two decades ago. At every level of government in California, Democrats dominate consistently, running up big margins with the fast-growing Latino and Asian-American constituencies. But McCarthy also will lead a party in the House that has a strong nativist bloc, and may resist taking up a serious immigration effort in this Congress and perhaps the next one too.
More than a few political experts, including Boehner, believe this would be devastating for the party in national elections. McCarthy shares that view, but sensitive to his own party conference — he’ll have to be reelected to a leadership post after the November elections — he’ll be very cautious on the issue.
So does Dara Lind, who observes that McCarthy’s position on the issue is deeply unpopular:
In January, before House Republican leadership released its principles for immigration reform, McCarthy told local television station KBAK/KBFX: “In my personal belief, I think it’ll go with legal status that will allow you to work and pay taxes.” But extremely few people actually support “legal status” that doesn’t result in citizenship for the undocumented. Most Americans want unauthorized immigrants to become citizens, either immediately or eventually; most of the rest want them deported. … There’s no real middle ground.
Weigel calls both McCarthy and Scalise “safe as milk” come November, which he suspects was part of their appeal:
If you’re looking for a “conservative victory” here, look to Scalise. The fast-talking Southerner bested Rep. Peter Roskam, a deputy whip who’d been groomed for big things, and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a sort-of Tea Party candidate who nonetheless gets farm subsidies back home in Indiana. He becomes, as some reporters quickly pointed out, the first Republican from a “red” state to take a leadership job since Barack Obama won the presidency.
But “red state” is a sort of useless term when you’re talking about congressmen. The victories of McCarthy and Scalise are good news for Republicans who want to avoid future Cantordammerung-style upsets. Why? Simple: There are three states where party primaries have been replaced by jungle primaries, followed by runoffs between the top two finishers. After John Boehner, the rest of the GOP’s leadership hails from these states.
Jonathan Bernstein cautions against reading too much into these choices:
House leadership is quite important. But it is also severely constrained by the conference’s stance on issues of public policy. On the margins, or perhaps a bit more, leadership has some ability to choose the bills it will schedule and those it will bury, and perhaps one leadership team is more able than another to get over the finish line to 218 votes. But it’s not as if the conference will automatically fall in line with whatever leadership wants. Leaders who misjudge what individual members want is the perfect recipe for coups.
So today’s elections are meaningful. Just don’t be too sure you know exactly what they mean.