It's no Mitch McConnell moment, but House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions just gave Democrats some cause for celebration. In an interview published Tuesday, the Texas Republican, who plays an important role in how legislatively productive Congress can be, drove home what Democrats have long said about the GOP: The party has no interest in governing.
"Everything we do in this body should be about messaging to win back the Senate," Sessions said in an unfortunate interview with Roll Call.
"That's it. If you don't want Benghazis to happen or you want an investigation for Benghazi, if you want an investigation on the IRS as opposed to the excuses that [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid is all about, if you do not like what's happening at the [National Security Agency], then you gain the Senate," he added.
Prepare to see those remarks quoted and requoted in scores of press releases and Democratic attack ads between now and the end of the year. Perhaps they'll start with a stark portrait of Sessions's face, which creepily fades creepily to black, followed by bright-red block letters, "The GOP has no interest in governing ... just ask House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions. "
The remark is reminiscent of Senate Minority Leader McConnell's famous line about how the GOP's "top political priority" should be denying President Obama a second term. McConnell's comment was fodder for scores of political attack ads and Democratic press releases at the time. And with good reason.
The gaffes fall into a particular subcategory known as a Kinsley gaffe. "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth—some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say," political commentator Michael Kinsley once observed. That is what gives it its power.
Yet to some conservatives, Sessions's line is not a gaffe at all. There is a legitimate conservative base that would like to see Republicans negotiate on nothing. During the shutdown fight, for instance, the cofounder of Tea Party Patriots trumpeted the "glorious battle" fought by "committed warrior[s]" that put Republicans "poised for massive gains in 2014."
If that's Republican thinking, it has Dems rubbing their hands together. Asked Wednesday morning whether Sessions's remarks would make for attack-ad fodder, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman wrote back happily. "House Republicans' agenda has never been about governing--they're more interesting in playing political games, while Democrats are focused on solving problems and creating a strong middle class," said Emily Bittner. A Democratic National Committee spokesman wrote back within minutes. "In short, yes—Sessions articulated what their strategy is—it's not about the issues, it's about trying to score political points, and folks aren't buying it as we saw in VA last night," said Michael Czin.
In fact, the DNC blasted out a press releases Tuesday night, saying Sessions's comments lay out what House Republicans' No. 1 goal is: to use their House majority to play politics in the hopes of winning the Senate. "Sessions's comments are nothing short of cynical, but unfortunately this is a view that has become dominant in today's GOP. Republicans are singularly focused on playing politics, and they have little or no regard for the millions of Americans who are hurt by their actions," the DNC wrote in its release.
There's some truth to the claim. Last month, Czin noted, the GOP-led shutdown cost the economy $24 billion. The party has voted 43 times to try to repeal Obamacare, and some lawmakers are actively setting up roadblocks to prevent their constituents from signing up for care. Next week Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is being pilloried by conservative press for not taking a more tea-party-like oppositionist role in the debt-ceiling showdown, will introduce a 20-week abortion ban that's purely for show. As Amanda Marcotte notes over at Slate, President Obama has zero reason not to veto it with haste if it actually gets to him. Not that it will, as Reid has every incentive to kill it before it even gets to the Senate floor.