The year 2013 was a tough one for the 113th Congress, which will go down in the history books as one of the least productive. Gridlock and personality clashes prevented action on many policy proposals -- including ideas strongly supported by the public, such as comprehensive immigration reform and background checks -- from being debated or enacted into law.
However, the public’s ire wasn’t limited to a single party, as both Democrats and Republicans declined in popularity this year. That said, the Republican Party certainly took much-harder hits from the inside. From a failed tea party faction revolt against House Speaker John Boehner, to the first government shutdown in 17 years, the GOP had some very embarrassing moments this year, including tussles that have sullied its brand image or, depending on how you vote, reinforced support for the party.
Here are some of the Republicans' most embarrassing moments of 2013:
Failed Revolt Puts Boehner Back In Charge
The year began on a sour note, as many Republicans were furious over the fiscal cliff deal that increased taxes on individuals making $400,000 and more and families earning more than $450,000. Speaker Boehner supported this bill, though Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and many House Republicans opposed it.
With mostly Democratic support, the fiscal cliff deal cleared the lower chamber, 257-167. Later, the rumor of a House GOP revolt against the speaker gripped the Capitol. On Jan. 3 a small group of conservatives indeed revolted, outraged at the fiscal cliff negotiation that included few spending cuts, and Boehner narrowly retained the speakership with 220 votes. At least 12 conservatives defected and voted for other members. Looking back, it was probably a sign of how difficult 2013 was going to be.
‘Stop Being The Stupid Party’
There’s nothing worse than being publicly shamed by one of your own. And that’s exactly what happened in January, as Republicans tried to recover from the 2012 election loss.
While giving a keynote address at a Republican National Committee meeting that month, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave his party members some tough love when he told them, “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”
Jindal has been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
The momentum for immigration reform has never been stronger than in 2013. Advocates continuously overpower opponents in mobilizing across the nation and the airwaves. The growing Latino vote helped President Barack Obama return to the White House for a second time. Seeing this, Republicans realized that Hispanics are a group they need to court. But Republican outreach to this growing population has been very rocky, and, at minimum, problematic. Some, if not much, of it has to do with Republicans' rhetoric toward immigrant communities.
A classic example of the “offensive and bizarre comments” Jindal warned of happened in March when U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, used the slur “wetbacks” to describe Hispanic workers. The term is used to describe workers from various Latin American countries; it originally referred to those who swam across the Rio Grande to come to America.
“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” Young said to Alaska public radio station KRBD. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.”
That comment angered the public, and Young issued a written apology to say he “meant no disrespect.”
Various constituencies held out hope that an immigration reform bill would head to the president’s desk in 2013. The activists’ momentum ticked up during the August recess, a perfect time for constituents to let their voices be heard. But heading into the break, some Republicans shot themselves in the foot, leaving the party further from its stated goal of representing all Americans.
In July, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, showed he just can't reconcile citizenship for selected groups of immigrants who broke the law to come to the U.S. Here’s what he said in an interview while speaking about those immigrants brought illegally to the country as children.
“Some of them are valedictorians -- and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents. For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds -- and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”
Unlike his colleague from Alaska, King felt no need to apologize, even when Boehner told King that his comments were “deeply offensive and wrong.” He told MSNBC’s “Meet The Press,” “My numbers have not been debunked. I said valedictorians compared to people who would be legalized under the act that are drug smugglers coming across the border.”
Ted Cruz’s Fake Filibuster
Cruz's effort was the beginning of an embarrassing chapter for Republicans. In an effort to stop Obamacare by getting it defunded, the Texas senator undertook a phony 21-hour filibuster on the Senate floor in September that did nothing to damage the new health care law nor its funding.
Cruz has also been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2016. It was obvious early on that Cruz didn’t have a "Plan B" for his futile filibuster effort. But the general consensus was that you either chuckled or felt sorry for him reading from “Green Eggs and Ham” or impersonating Darth Vader. (Skip video to 1:20)
His pointless grandstanding riled his GOP colleagues in both chambers, who blamed him for causing the U.S. government shutdown in October. Perhaps the most angered by Cruz’s actions was U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. King said this to conservative media site Breitbart about the junior senator: “He’s a con man. He knew this was going nowhere. He sold a false bill of goods -- put pressure on Republicans -- said defund Obamacare in the House and it would work through the Senate, and it didn’t. He knew it wouldn’t [work]. So we had to listen to him talk about Dr. Seuss for 21 hours.”
GOP Government Shutdown
In October, the government partially shut down for 16 days after Democrats and Republicans failed to agree on a budget. Politicking over a debt limit increase and Republicans’ plan to block or delay Obamacare before enrollment began in October led to about 800,000 federal workers being furloughed and more than $25 billion in commercial activity eliminated from U.S. GDP. The public mainly blamed Republicans.
‘Have To Get Something Out Of This’ But Don’t Know What
As the government shutdown began, Republicans were still talking tough. The public and some lawmakers were already aware Republicans were out of moves and had no exit strategy, and it was just a matter of seeing how long the party’s members would take to realize the same, compromise and cut a deal. Nothing gave a better picture of just how split and chaotic things were within the party than U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman’s quote to the Washington Examiner about the shutdown.
“We’re not going to be disrespected,” said Stutzman, R-Ind., to the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
Of course, the lack of a viable game plan by the far right angered Boehner, who publicly lashed out against some groups who backed the shutdown, because he and other GOP leadership members didn’t think it would actually work. “Are you kidding me?” a comical Boehner said at a recent press conference after the announcement of a two-year budget deal. He was criticizing conservative groups, who were opposed to the deal, but supported Republicans' threat of a shutdown because they didn't think the tactic would actually work.