Speaker of (Glass) House Boehner Should Stop Casting Stones at Obama

The public has little trust in the two major parties or their leaders.

President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) attend a memorial service for former Speaker of the House Tom Foley in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 29, 2013.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
Feb. 10, 2014, midnight

When John Boehner says Re­pub­lic­ans can’t trust Barack Obama on im­mig­ra­tion re­form, my first thought is to take a sar­cast­ic swipe at his hy­po­crisy. A snarky head­line jumps to mind: House Speak­er Pot Calls Pres­id­ent Kettle Un­trust­worthy.

On second thought, I’ll stick with the facts to make a case that nobody in Wash­ing­ton is trus­ted.

Let’s start with Boehner: He tit­il­lated Wash­ing­ton with talk of a com­prom­ise on im­mig­ra­tion, an is­sue in need of re­form to bring 11 mil­lion il­leg­al res­id­ents out of the shad­ows, to boost the eco­nomy, and to po­ten­tially save the GOP from ex­tinc­tion. After hard-right law­makers, com­ment­at­ors, and in­terest groups labeled the ef­fort am­nesty, Boehner re­treated.

He de­flec­ted blame to Obama, say­ing Re­pub­lic­ans wouldn’t be able to trust any deal cut with the White House. “The pres­id­ent is go­ing to have to re­build the trust (so) that the Amer­ic­an people (and) my col­leagues can trust him to en­force the law the way it was writ­ten,” the speak­er said.

That’s a poor ex­cuse. The fact is the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­por­ted nearly as many people as were de­por­ted between 1892 and 1997, a level of en­force­ment that has angered the His­pan­ic com­munity and oth­er al­lies. In ad­di­tion, any new im­mig­ra­tion law likely would not take full ef­fect un­til after Obama leaves of­fice.

Boehner also sug­ges­ted that his caucus couldn’t trust Obama be­cause “he’s run­ning around the coun­try telling every­one that he’s go­ing to keep act­ing on his own.” He was re­fer­ring to ex­ec­ut­ive or­ders, a con­sti­tu­tion­al per­quis­ite of the pres­id­ency. In fact, Obama has is­sued few­er or­ders than many past GOP pres­id­ents, and no court has found his ac­tion il­leg­al.

That hasn’t stopped Re­pub­lic­ans from ac­cus­ing Obama of tyranny, a highly charged word that means “cruel and op­press­ive gov­ern­ment or rule.”

This is dan­ger­ous lan­guage. At a pub­lic meet­ing with GOP Rep. Jim Briden­stine, a wo­man called for Obama’s ex­e­cu­tion as an “en­emy com­batant.” Rather than re­buke the false and ir­re­spons­ible charge, Briden­stine called Obama “law­less.”

It’s no won­der Re­pub­lic­ans have a cred­ib­il­ity crisis. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll con­duc­ted last month showed that Amer­ic­ans trust Demo­crats over Re­pub­lic­ans to “gov­ern in a more hon­est and eth­ic­al way,” 41 per­cent to 31 per­cent.

Con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al stands at a pathet­ic 13 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent As­so­ci­ated Press-GfK poll, with 86 per­cent of adults dis­ap­prov­ing. While the Sen­ate is con­trolled by Demo­crats, the grid­lock and ex­trem­ism des­pised by Amer­ic­ans is centered in the GOP-run House. By nearly a 2-1 mar­gin, Amer­ic­ans be­lieve Demo­crats are more will­ing to work in a bi­par­tis­an fash­ion than Re­pub­lic­ans, Pew found.

What about Obama and fel­low Demo­crats? While most Amer­ic­ans fa­vor the pres­id­ent’s party on traits, their al­le­gi­ances are di­vided on policy. More to the point of this column, a year of scan­dal, de­flect­ing, and dis­sem­bling un­der­cut what had been one of Obama’s greatest strengths: cred­ib­il­ity. Polls now find that more than half of Amer­ic­ans wouldn’t de­scribe him as hon­est.

More broadly, since the early 1960s, when nearly 80 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said they trus­ted gov­ern­ment “most of the time,” the pub­lic’s faith in its polit­ic­al lead­er­ship has de­clined stead­ily, ac­cord­ing to Pew, to less than 20 per­cent. The same trend holds for vir­tu­ally every U.S. in­sti­tu­tion. In noth­ing we trust.

El­ev­en months ago, Boehner was asked if he trus­ted Obama. “Ab­so­lutely,” he said. You might won­der: Was he telling the truth then, or is he evad­ing it now?

NOTE: For more thoughts on trust, please see Face­book post here.

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