Pete Sessions Hands Dems the Perfect Attack

This House leader just gave Democrats all the hyperbole they need to go after Republicans — the script writes itself.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Add to Briefcase
Lucia Graves
Nov. 6, 2013, 6:28 a.m.

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.

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