Will the Democrats become ‘Obstructionists’ in a GOP majority Congress?

With the Senate increasingly appearing likely to fall into Republican hands after November 4 and the 114th Congress, Obama’s last Congress, seemingly lost to the GOP, the party in power has been working through the stages of grief.

This week, we entered the fourth stage of the Kübler-Ross model: Depression. Politico observed on Monday night that Democrats inside the Beltway are finally contemplating what life will be like with both chambers of Congress dominated by Republicans, and they are not thrilled by the prospect.

Would-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his team are already telling the president to get ready with his veto pen. “In a Republican Senate, the difference would be the president would actually have to make the decision whether to sign or veto bills that would be presented to him — because more would actually be sent his way,” a McConnell spokesman told Politico.

That would put to death a favored lie propagated by this White House and disseminated by a credulous press regarding the “obstructionist Republicans.” It is now a nearly involuntary tick among some members of the political media to refer to the GOP’s governing strategy as “obstructionism” and to rend garments in anguish over the historic inactivity of this Congress. Only in conservative media outlets was it reported that, as of August, 356 bills passed by the House sat languishing in the Senate. Some 200 of those bills were passed with bipartisan majorities and 100 with the support of 75 percent of the House Democratic conference.

The “obstructionist Republicans” plotline was always ever a myth. The GOP did what all political parties in the minority do: they formed voting blocs aimed at frustrating the will of the majority they opposed. It was this temerity that led the Senate Democrats to rewrite the rules of the upper chamber in order to limit minority filibuster rights, a shortsighted tantrum that they will soon regret.

But Democrats and their allies in the press are finding it hard to let go of the “obstructionist Republicans” narrative. The White House is convinced that “obstruction” will continue, even when it will be them doing the obstructing.

“Republicans in control in the Senate, they say, would mean two years of obstruction, subpoenas and brutal confirmation fights,” Politico reported after noting that “Hill insiders laugh” at the notion that the GOP can be a productive and positive governing force. “Instead of 2016 creating pressure to get things done, it will set up yet another cycle of running the clock with the majority up for grabs again in two years.”

Some of the usual suspects appear inclined to assist in the fabrication of a retooled “obstructionism” myth for the White House.

Gabriel Malor observed that this is an odd way to frame the results of a national election in which the president’s party faces yet another rebuke from midterm year voters. Traditionally, it should be up to the president to recalibrate his approach to governance in the wake of new political conditions. And what about congressional Democrats? Will the media now sneer at those few recalcitrant Democrats who refuse to join McConnell in cobbling together a 60-vote majority as “obstructionists?”

Murray cited analysis by NBC’s First Read team which submitted that it will be the GOP that finds it next to impossible to form a 60-vote coalition among their party members. Forging agreement between senators with ideologies that range from Ted Cruz (R-TX) to Susan Collins (R-ME) will be quite like herding cats, but the present cast of Senate Democrats includes a great range of ideologies, too. And, yet, somehow the republic limped along while governed by the 112th and 113th Congresses.

Transformative reforms that will be opposed by the sitting Democratic president will not be in the offing, and it would be the height of cynicism for the press to scoff at Republicans as being incapable of governing because they refuse to pass, for example, a comprehensive immigration reform proposal a Democratic president would support. But that’s exactly what Politico did.

It’s enough of a stretch to imagine McConnell signing off on handing Obama a victory, they say, but Republicans would also need to be worried about setting off primaries from the right for themselves. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, for instance, worked with Democrats to pass an immigration bill out of the Senate last year and was eviscerated by conservatives, without even a final law to show for it. And former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) surprise primary loss was blamed on talk he would deal with the White House on immigration. But expect Obama to talk about immigration no matter what, even if there isn’t a deal to be reached.

To focus on immigration reform as the priority of the 114th Congress is only an effort to repair what will be the Democratic Party’s sagging legitimacy following the loss of Senate control. The equivalent would be the media admonishing the Democrat-dominated 111th Congress for failing to address the 2008 financial crisis through a package of targeted tax cuts. The bar is being set by the political press in an effort to frame Democratic obstructionism as noble and based in principle rather than the cheap, partisan kind the GOP engaged in after the 2010 midterms.

Of course, this could change. The left is still working through the grieving process and will soon come to accept the new, unfavorable reality. If that reality includes a Republican-dominated Congress, Democrats and the president may come to terms with the fact that they, too, will have to govern. When they do, the ideologically simpatico press will report how much better at being in the minority Democrats are compared to their GOP counterparts.