For Democrats, the tea party is the gift that keeps on giving. For Republicans, the group is something akin to a flesh-eating virus that threatens to chomp away at the GOP.
The civil war between establishment and tea-party Republicans intensified this week when House Speaker John Boehner slammed outside conservative groups for “ridiculous” pushback against the bipartisan budget agreement, which cleared his chamber Thursday. Tea-party-sympathetic organizations, Boehner later said, are “pushing our members in places where they don’t want to be.”
Washington insiders agree. Sixty-five percent of Republican influencers on the Hill called tea-party challengers to Republican lawmakers “very unhelpful” to the GOP, according to a National Journal Political Insiders poll published Friday. Their presence on the campaign trail leads to further splintering of the Grand Old Party, whose widening rift between establishment and tea-party members has not gone unnoticed by both Democratic opponents and the general public. “Let’s shoot at the opposition, not our own troops,” one Insider pleaded. “Most Republicans think they’re idiots,” said another.
On the other hand, 78 percent of Democratic Insiders find tea-party challengers to be “very helpful.” Democrats depend on ultraconservatives candidates like Steve Stockman, who is taking great pains to label his Republican opponent for a Senate seat in Texas, Sen. John Cornyn, a liberal. For them, a divided Republican party means more legroom for Democratic candidates to sweep voters fed up with ideological debates.
Political figures like Stockman do the job of dragging the national Republican image away from the mainstream — and voters — for the Democrats. With midterm elections more than 10 months away, there’s still time for more tea-party challengers to step up to the podium and exacerbate the situation. “For every Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, you get five Ken Bucks and Todd Akins,” said one insider in the poll.
Come next November, the biggest tea-party supporters could be the liberals they want to squash. “We should be forming independent-expenditure committees and super PACs to support any tea partier interested in taking on Republican incumbents,” joked a Democratic Insider. Another summed up simply, “Thank you, Steve Stockman.”
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Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
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