A couple of actions by Congressional Republicans hours apart this past Tuesday night and Wednesday morning demonstrated how the Republican Party is in open warfare with itself. First, House Republicans were sharply divided in their vote to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, atypically, did not make a speech on the House floor in support of the vote. Boehner’s second in command, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, not only voted against his speaker and the fiscal cliff deal, he spoke out against it for all to hear. The Republican fiscal cliff vote tally in the House went against Speaker Boehner, with only 85 voting “yea” and 151 voting “nay” (the bill passed due to the overwhelming Democratic “yea” vote). This follows an embarrassing failure by Boehner to bring his own fiscal cliff “plan B” bill up for a vote in the House on December 20.
A short time later, House Republicans’ inaction, on a $60 billion relief bill for victims of Hurricane Sandy was even more striking. After the Republican leadership, on Boehner’s orders, adjourned the House without taking up the Sandy bill, a number of Republican representatives from New York and New Jersey came out swinging against Speaker Boehner. Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island called the action “a betrayal by the Congress and by the nation, and that is just untenable and unforgivable.” Rep. Peter King of New York had some of the toughest words for his House Republican leadership:
“I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds, because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.”
Likewise, Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is riding a wave of popularity for his efforts to help New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy, said:
Last night, politics was placed before our oath to serve our citizens. For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch. … Shame on Congress. On a political chessboard of internal palace-intrigue politics, our people were played last night as a pawn. It is why the American people hate Congress.
The Republican backlash against its own party leadership was so harsh that Speaker Boehner was forced to relent and schedule a vote on Sandy aid for tomorrow.
These Republican battles occur against a backdrop of 2012 Republican election losses. Not only did Democratic President Barack Obama win a second term, Democrats gained seats in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, in a year that many had said would be very tough for Democrats. Thus far, just a few days into the new year, it appears that this great divide in the Republican Party is shaping up to be one of the biggest political stories of 2013.