WASHINGTON – With Democrats acting like this, who needs Republicans?
Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader who would very much like to be No. 1, caused a furor last week when he gave a speech at the National Press Club bashing fellow Democrats and the White House. He said that Democrats focused on the “wrong problem” when they passed Obamacare and that the way they handled stimulus legislation was a “mistake.”
As if by way of reply, the White House announced the same day that it would veto a $440 billion tax bill the Senate Democratic leadership had negotiated with Republicans. Meanwhile, former White House officials who serve as surrogate defenders of President Obama went after Schumer on Twitter.
Former Obama aide Tommy Vietor: “Shorter Chuck Schumer – I wish Obama cared more about helping Democrats than sick people.”
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Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau: “Funny, I don’t remember Chuck Schumer giving that advice when he was privately and publicly championing the Affordable Care Act in 2010.” (Actually, Schumer made a similar critique in 2010.)
Just in time for Thanksgiving, Democrats were having an intraparty food fight.
Recriminations are natural after a defeat of the size Democrats suffered in the midterm elections, but this family feud is a bit excessive – and counterproductive at a time when Republicans are preparing to dismantle Obama’s presidency and Democrats’ legislative priorities.
It began immediately after the elections, when David Krone, chief of staff to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, went on the record with The Washington Post essentially blaming the loss of the Senate on Obama’s fundraising decisions and unpopularity.
Six Senate Democrats made a symbolic stand against Reid, voting against him returning as their leader. And House Democrats rebuked their leader, Nancy Pelosi, by voting down her candidate to lead Democrats on the commerce committee. Piling on, Bill Clinton and former Clinton hand Terry McAuliffe, now governor of Virginia, joined in the criticism of the party’s election strategy.
The Democrats’ circular firing squad is all the more puzzling because this is a time when Republicans, now with unified control of Congress, should be the party struggling with internal strife, between hard-liners seeking maximum disruption and those taking seriously their obligation to govern.
There were signs of that fissure in recent days after the House Intelligence Committee, controlled by Republicans, released a declassified report essentially debunking all the conspiracy theories conservatives had been cooking up about the 2012 attacks on U.S. personnel in Benghazi, Libya.
The panel found that “appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the committee found no evidence that there was either a stand-down order or a denial of available air support.” The GOP-led panel further found that “there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks” and that while the Obama administration’s initial public account of the attacks wasn’t “fully accurate,” there had been “a stream of contradictory and conflicting intelligence.”
The committee, in addition, said that there was no evidence that officials who had been in Benghazi were kept from speaking to lawmakers about the attacks, and no evidence of “unauthorized activities” by the CIA in Benghazi or arms shipments to Syria.
These conclusions, following similar findings by numerous other investigators, would seem to close the case on Benghazi. But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the committee’s work “crap” and “garbage,” and Republican senators including Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida are said to be agitating to have the new Republican Senate majority investigate Benghazi all over again. House Speaker John Boehner, under similar pressure, effectively dismissed the findings of his own House Intelligence Committee by announcing that he was reappointing his Benghazi select committee because “the American people still have far too many questions about what happened.”
There will be many more such tensions within the new GOP majority – and Democrats should be exploiting those, not rehashing old fights about what happened in 2009 and 2010. As a matter of political analysis, Schumer is correct. Had Democrats done more to boost the economy early on and gone after health care reform in smaller pieces – as then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advocated at the time – they may well have wound up with more durable achievements on both and kept their majority intact to enact other priorities.
The better question is why Schumer chose to reopen those wounds now. The new Republican majority will do everything it can to thwart Obama and the Democrats. Democrats hardly need to be thwarting themselves.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.