WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are in such disarray, they couldn’t even agree on a bill to outlaw third-trimester abortions. That's been one of the GOP's most popular efforts to curb access to abortions, and yet the bill had to be yanked from the floor because Republican lawmakers couldn't agree on what it would say.
After sweeping both chambers of Congress last November, the GOP was eager to take control, but the inability to pass an abortion bill is a glaring example of the deep divisions fracturing the House Republicans and spilling out into public view. If they can't legislate on an issue on which they agree, they're unlikely to be able to figure out a way to unite on more controversial topics (e.g., how to fight the president on immigration or the budget).
Potentially more damaging is the narrative the GOP is creating: Republicans can’t govern. They can’t pass their own agenda. They can’t figure out how to fund the government. They're having a civil war over basic, longtime elements of the party platform.
Republicans are downplaying the problems, of course. With a group that big, they argue, there are bound to be disagreements. “There have been a couple of stumbles,” House Speaker John Boehner said when asked about the problems plaguing his chamber this month.
But next month is unlikely to be any better. The Department of Homeland Security bill that the House passed -- the agency will run out of money after Feb. 27 -- funds the federal agency tasked with preventing terror attacks and also undoes everything President Barack Obama has ever done to address the issue of undocumented immigrants. It stands no chance of getting over the needed 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate.
For House Republicans, the bill was a way of kicking down the road the question of what they are actually going to do to get the agency funded. Asked on Tuesday how he planned to keep DHS from shutting down at the end of the next month, Boehner kept walking out of the room. That’s because there isn’t an easy solution. Anything that includes undoing Obama’s immigration actions won’t pass the Senate (and wouldn't be signed by the president). Any bill that leaves the immigration orders in place will prompt the right-wing of the Republican conference to revolt.
Now the House leadership is trying to figure out what to do about a border security bill. The leadership had planned to vote this week on the bill. They got lucky with the weather and took it off the schedule, blaming the snowstorm. But it's clear they didn't have the support they needed to vote this week.
The issue seems pretty straightforward: Republicans have been demanding increased border security since the Senate passed a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system last year. But the bill (which has very little Democratic support) has become a conservative target. Outside groups -- which spend lots of money funding primary challenges against Republicans who stray toward the center -- have begun to complain about the legislation.
They argue that the bill doesn’t address the presence of undocumented immigrants who are already inside U.S. borders. They want a companion bill that would push enforcement and deportation. While leadership is trying to implement at least a part of the GOP's immigration agenda, conservatives want their whole wish list -- and they won't settle for less.
The public infighting over the GOP's vision of an immigration bill is particularly pointless, because it isn't going to become law under Obama. Democrats, meanwhile, are happy to see the GOP bills die and are equally happy to highlight the evidence of Republican discord.
"My Republican friends say [the border security bill] was pulled because of the weather. There's no doubt that they could have done the border bill had they had the votes to do it," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on Tuesday. "They did, once again, demonstrate the deep and internal divisions within their party."
Speaker Boehner has to find a path between accomplishing nothing legislatively and succeeding only in infuriating the right wing. And he can't count on having a snowstorm come to his rescue every time.