John Boehner’s Biggest Mistake: Putting Party Over Everything

Bill Scher

For years, I and other liberals urged Speaker John Boehner to stand up to the Tea Party. Before the 2013 shutdown, I suggested Boehner dare the right-wing to oust him, and then partner with Democrats to save his speakership in exchange for a budget compromise and immigration reform.

In 2014, many noted that Boehner could have passed the Senate’s immigration bill with a bipartisan majority if he only allowed a floor vote, instead of allowing the far-right minority dictate the House agenda.

Boehner rejected these calls for a logical reason: he wanted to maintain party unity and win the 2014 midterms. And he did.

But now he has to reckon with the fact that winning the midterms did nothing to make his party more responsible and did nothing to advance his own policy goals.

He knows that the far-right faction of his caucus is nihilistically destructive. He said on Face The Nation Sunday that “we have got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know — they know — are never going to happen.”

And yet, it is Boehner that could have done something about them. And he didn’t.

He could have stood up to them. He could have passed a budget without them. He could have passed immigration reform without them. He could have reauthorized the Export-Import Bank without them. He could have told them, I’m not going to let you break the Congress and sully the Republican Party.

It would have been harder. It would have been fractious. Maybe it would have meant a worse midterm for the Republicans.

But it would have been better for the long-term health of the Republican Party, which needs to not only win Latino votes but prove to the broader electorate it is capable of governing like adults.

It would have been better for the country, to end the shutdown dramas, fix our broken immigration system and support American exporters.

And it would have been better for Boehner, who could have had a legacy of policy achievements instead of being run out of town.

Boehner put party first. And he hurt his party, and the country, in the process.

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