Early in 2009, before a dude named Barack Obama was sworn-in as president of the United States, the country was bogged down in two ground wars that had been dragging on for most of a decade.
And our annual deficit, at almost $1.5 trillion, was never higher.
And the financial industry, the backbone of the globe’s most important engine, was crashing and burning.
And our economy was contracted at a Great Depression-like pace.
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And the stock market was in free fall.
Poverty was shooting skyward, as was the unemployment rate, the number of people without health insurance, the number of people filing jobless claims and the number of people losing their homes are suffering with an underwater mortgage.
What did the national Republican Party, which faced daunting Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House, decide to do?
Did it say that for at least a short while, they would be statesmen, to help steer the country into calmer water? No.
Instead, they secretly plotted - even before Obama was sworn in - to regain power by opposing everything the new president did.
That isn’t supposition; it is well documented history even though most conservatives deny it and many liberals don’t know the extent of the planning.
A snippet from reporter Michael Grunwald:
On Jan. 27, 2009, House Republican leader John Boehner opened his weekly conference meeting with an announcement: Obama would make his first visit to the Capitol around noon, to meet exclusively with Republicans about his economic-recovery plan. “We’re looking forward to the President’s visit,” Boehner said.
The niceties ended there, as Boehner turned to the $815 billion stimulus bill that House Democrats had just unveiled. Boehner complained that it would spend too much, too late, on too many Democratic goodies. He urged his members to trash it on cable, on YouTube, on the House floor: “It’s another run-of-the-mill, undisciplined, cumbersome, wasteful Washington spending bill … I hope everyone here will join me in voting no!”
Cantor’s whip staff had been planning a “walk-back” strategy in which they would start leaking that 50 Republicans might vote yes, then that they were down to 30 problem children, then that they might lose 20 or so. The idea was to convey momentum. “You want the members to feel like, Oh, the herd is moving. I’ve got to move with the herd,” explains Rob Collins, Cantor’s chief of staff at the time. That way, even if a dozen Republicans ultimately defected, it would look as if Obama failed to meet expectations.
But when he addressed the conference, Cantor adopted a different strategy. “We’re not going to lose any Republicans,” he declared. His staff was stunned.
“We’re like, Uhhhhh, we have to recalibrate,” Collins recalls.
Afterward, Cantor’s aides asked if he was sure he wanted to go that far out on a limb. Zero was a low number. Centrists and big-spending appropriators from Obama-friendly districts would be sorely tempted to break ranks. If Cantor promised unanimity and failed to deliver, the press would have the story it craved: Republicans divided, dysfunction junction, still clueless after two straight spankings.
But Cantor said yes, he meant zero. He was afraid that if the Democrats managed to pick off two or three Republicans, they’d be able to slap a “bipartisan” label on the bill. “We can get there,” he said. “If we don’t get there, we can try like hell to get there.”
Shortly before 11 a.m., the AP reported that Boehner had urged Republicans to oppose the stimulus. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs handed Obama a copy of the story in the Oval Office, just before he left for the Hill to make his case for the stimulus, an unprecedented visit to the opposition after just a week in office. “You know, we still thought this was on the level,” Gibbs says. Obama political aide David Axelrod says that after the President left, White House aides were buzzing about the insult. And they didn’t even know that Cantor had vowed to whip a unanimous vote — which, ultimately, he did.
“It was stunning that we’d set this up and, before hearing from the President, they’d say they were going to oppose this,” Axelrod says. “Our feeling was, we were dealing with a potential disaster of epic proportions that demanded cooperation. If anything was a signal of what the next two years would be like, it was that.”
But that wasn’t the only signal. A few other examples:
• Vice President Biden told me that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any bipartisan cooperation on major votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators who said, ‘Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’ ” he recalled. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was, ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’ ” Biden said. The Vice President said he hasn’t even told Obama who his sources were, but Bob Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania both confirmed they had conversations with Biden along those lines.
“So I promise you — and the President agreed with me — I never thought we were going to get Republican support,” Biden said.
• One Obama aide said he received a similar warning from a Republican Senate staffer he was seeing at the time. He remembered asking her one morning in bed, How do we get a stimulus deal? She replied, Baby, there’s no deal!
“This is how we get whole,” she said with a laugh. “We’re going to do to you what you did to us in 2006.”
• David Obey, then chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, met with his GOP counterpart, Jerry Lewis, to explain what Democrats had in mind for the stimulus and ask what Republicans wanted to include. “Jerry’s response was, ‘I’m sorry, but leadership tells us we can’t play,’ ” Obey told me. “Exact quote: ‘We can’t play.’ What they said right from the get-go was, It doesn’t matter what the hell you do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”
That strategy worked - and backfired.
It worked by so gumming up the political machine, Obama voters tuned out and independents were turned off and blamed the party in power - because they weren’t paying attention closely, they just knew they hated the political bickering - and the GOP had an historic election in 2010. Now, they are poised to retake the Senate Tuesday night.
But Obama was re-elected despite Sen. Mitch McConnell making it a priority to make sure he became a one-term president and health reform has been implemented despite former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina saying that would be Obama’s Waterloo.
That was the backdrop for the past 6 years.
Our economy is healing. Millions are getting health insurance. The deficit has been falling at its fastest rate since WWII. This is not 2009, when the country really needed Republicans to step up.
Given this new backdrop, what will the GOP do with ITS new found power?
Will they put forth a serious agenda? Or will they just continue trying to oppose “King Obama” instead?
What do you expect?
What do you want them to do?