This is a Late-Speaker-Boehner-Era level of acute feistiness within the majority, and all because of a cave on a supplemental spending bill—one for which Sen. Pat Leahy won a fair number of concessions while negotiating in the Senate, a fact that’s been lost post-cave. Surely there will be a superficial effort to patch things up when members return to Washington this week, and pronouncements will again be made about how House Democrats remain unified in working For the People. But the reaction to the first cave is an inauspicious sign for the caves ahead.
And there will be caves ahead. In a partisan environment, House majorities will regularly cave on “must-pass” legislation to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling, or address an emergency. While the House can pass legislation with the majority party alone, the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for breaking filibusters requires it to reach bipartisan deals to ensure something passes. The Senate can always strike a deal between the two parties, pass its legislation on a broad bipartisan basis, and force the House to eat it because the House’s preferred, partisan legislation couldn’t get through the Senate. That’s exactly what happened in this case: Senate Democrats struck a compromise with Republicans on a bill and passed it 84 to 8, leaving House Democrats on their own. This is not a new dynamic—when he was Senate minority leader and Barack Obama was president, Mitch McConnell left John Boehner hanging seemingly every few hours. If House Democrats are tearing each other to shreds over elements of border funding in a $4.6 billion emergency bill, it’s not a good sign for how they’ll treat the compromises in an annual DHS spending bill costing more than 10 times that.