WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers began the new year in Washington with new ideas about how to undermine the government in which they serve.
On Wednesday, the first legislative day of the year, House conservatives gathered with reporters for their monthly “Conversations with Conservatives.” When the questioning turned to the armed rebellion in Oregon against the authority of the federal government, these representatives of the United States stood with the rebels.
“You have just a frustration that they feel the federal government is not listening to them anymore, and that’s what leads to what so far has been a peaceful takeover – of an abandoned building, by the way – and the media, I think, is so quick to sort of cast aspersions on that group of people,” declared Rep. Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican and leader of House conservatives.
“And I think civil disobedience has been something for the most part that the liberal media used to stand up for, but apparently there’s some exceptions to that when us conservatives and pro-Second Amendment people are trying to exercise that same right of civil disobedience. So it’s pretty frustrating.”
No, Congressman. Civil disobedience is when people break laws they think unjust and then peacefully face the legal consequences. The takeover of a federal wildlife facility in Oregon by armed men is sedition.
Yet not one of the 10 or so Republican House members on the panel criticized the takeover, and one, Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico, announced his refusal to pass judgment.
“I just want to agree with Raul on this,” said Kentucky Rep. Tom Massie.
“You can disagree with their methods of protesting, but we wouldn’t be talking about this today if they weren’t protesting, and so they’ve drawn attention to it.”
It was an inauspicious start to this election year and to the second session of the 114th Congress. The Republican majority began the year not by governing but with an ostentatious show of its hostility toward government.
The House’s first substantive piece of business for the new year: another attempt to repeal Obamacare (the 62nd, by the Democrats’ tally) coupled with another stab at cutting off Planned Parenthood, one of a dozen such efforts recently to scale back abortion rights and women’s health care. In this latest attempt to repeal Obamacare (it goes further than the previous 61 because Republicans used a legislative maneuver that allows it to go to President Obama for a certain veto), Republicans abandoned their “repeal and replace” mantra in favor of just abolishing the massive health care law.
“If we repeal Obamacare, the very first thing that happens is we go back to the best health care system in the world,” announced Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, another participant in the conservatives’ pizza-and-Coke luncheon. “We had health care six years ago, and it was the best, and that’s where I want to go as a starter.”
Brooks is given to exotic pronouncements (he declared in 2014 that Democrats were engaged in a “war on whites”), but his assertion that all was hunky-dory before the 2010 health care law recalls the good old days of lifetime coverage limits, coverage bans because of pre-existing conditions, discrimination against women, inability to carry health insurance between jobs, and obstacles to young adults staying on their parents’ policies.
Still there was, purely as a matter of doggedness, something impressive about this Obamacare vote. North Korea is testing nukes, Saudi Arabia and Iran are plunging the Middle East deeper into conflict – but congressional Republicans will not be distracted from their agenda.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in a Wednesday news conference, said he would eventually come up with an alternative to Obamacare and something else resembling a legislative agenda in 2016. “We are just beginning this decision-making process,” he said. “Nothing’s been decided yet.”
But it’s hard to govern when your caucus is so hostile to government that it has sympathy for seditionists. Asked about the Oregon situation, Ryan deferred to Rep. Greg Walden, a member of GOP leadership who represents the area – and, as The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis noted, Ryan nodded agreement as Walden spoke.
Walden made clear that “an armed takeover is not the way to go about it,” but he had sympathy for the rebels. “These people just want to take care of the environment – they really do,” he said. “And it is the government that all too often ignores the law.”
Such as: when lawmakers sworn to uphold the Constitution applaud those who take up arms against the government.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.