MSNBC host Joe Scarborough has been making some fairly conservative arguments on his program as of late. On Thursday’s Morning Joe, for instance, he took his liberal guests to task, blasting Politico’s Jim VandeHei and The New York Time’s Steve Rattner for characterizing the House GOP as a do-nothing, radical conference.
Scarborough insisted that Republicans have stood for the same principles “for 100 years,” while dismantling the relentless claim from liberals that the current House of Representatives is the most extreme in American history:
Everybody acts as if this group of Republicans in the House were transported from Mars to America in November of 2010. It’s not like he [Obama] couldn’t see this coming. So all of this talk about oh, they’re the most radical [Congress] – no. When Ronald Reagan was the president, the press said he was the most radical, right-wing president – and now everybody loves him.
Scarborough later addressed some of the reforms House Republicans proposed in the 1990s – when he was a Republican representative of Florida’s 1st District – comparing them with actions of the current House:
We abolished in the House, we passed legislation to abolish four federal agencies. My plan to abolish the education bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., the Department of Education, passed through John Kasich’s budget resolution. These Republicans are proposing nothing as dramatic, sweeping and radical as we did back then, and we still got to a deal.
The MSNBC host was, no doubt, referencing the many times President Clinton and a Republican House were able to compromise on fiscal measures – despite a presidential election in 1996 and at-times fiery rhetoric from both sides of the aisle. Clinton and a Newt Gingrich-led Congress were able to reach deals on welfare reform, a tax-relief plan, and federal budgets.
Scarborough did acknowledge that President Obama has adversaries that “want to kill him politically,” but scolded the president for not dealing with gridlock as his predecessors had:
This president sits in his White House, eventually hops out and gives a campaign speech, comes back home, and he thinks he’s going to reset the debate. It doesn’t happen that way. He’s going to have to think more creatively. Yes, he’s got people that want to kill him politically. Well, so did George W. Bush, and so did Bill Clinton. And they figured out how to get things done.
Not surprisingly, liberal panelists VandeHei and Rattner pushed back on Scarborough’s argument throughout the segment.
VandeHei whined that President Obama “has no choice but to go out, and essentially become a salesman,” because “there’s nothing that he wants to do that can get through” Congress.
When Scarborough incredulously asked why President Obama can’t propose “a single thing that he and the Republicans” could agree on, VandeHei again resorted to griping about the GOP:
I don't know what Congress you've been watching. What is he going to get through, Joe? The House, there's almost no proposal that the House is going to go with.
VandeHei later added a dose of hyperbole, claiming – without any evidence – that there was “probably two” self-described moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives.
Rattner was no less hyperbolic, calling Paul Ryan’s budget plan “more radical than anything that’s been passed in the last 100 years.” The economic analyst also openly pined for Democratic control in Washington, griping:
The president’s party, if only they ran everything. Then we might actually get something...
In fact, VandeHei later bolstered Rattner’s pipe dream, suggesting that “if we had two power centers in American politics – the Senate and the presidency – all of this stuff can get done.”
Newsflash, guys: the American electorate rejected the Democratic monopoly on government in the first half of Obama’s first term, sweeping Republicans into the House in 2010. And although President Obama won reelection in 2012, the voters returned a Republican majority to the House of Representatives. In the Senate, despite Democratic gains, young conservatives like Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) made their impressionable first mark on the political landscape. The electorate is hardly itching for one-party, liberal government – even though the mainstream media may ache for it.
See the full transcript below:
July 25, 2013
6:04 a.m. Eastern
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Jim VandeHei, I'm just a little confused here. What's the president trying to do? If he's trying to elect Democrats in 2014, then you can check that speech off – that makes a lot of sense. If he's trying to get things done in Washington, it’s a complete failure of a speech because it sounds like a campaign speech. Doesn't matter whether the Republicans deserve it or not, in the minds of the president’s supporters, the fact is his approval ratings are down, Congress's approval ratings are down, Americans want things done – and pointing your finger at the other side doesn't get it done if you’re president of the United States.
JIM VANDEHEI: You know, his aides tell us [Politico] what he's trying to do is get his groove back. That they just feel like they’re in a slump. That they’re having a hard time breaking through on any issue. So he wants to go out and talk about the economy. The problem is think about the handcuffs –
SCARBOROUGH: So this is more to set the mood?
VANDEHEI: What else is he going to do right now? They [The White House] won’t say this: he can't do anything. There's nothing that he wants to do that can get through this Congress. So he has no choice but to go out, and essentially become a salesman. If you think about –
SCARBOROUGH: The president can't figure out a single thing that he and the Republicans can agree on?
VANDEHEI [laughing]: I don't know what Congress you've been watching. What is he going to get through, Joe? The House, there's almost no proposal that the House is going to go with.
NICOLE WALLACE: That is –
VANDEHEI: That he is going to stomach or the liberal Democrats are going to stomach.
SCARBOROUGH: So Nicole – so Nicole, let me ask you this. Hold on a second. Nicole, I’ve got a question for Nicole. Nicole, it is not like this Republican Party, in 2009, supported tax increases. It’s not like this Republican Party, in 2009 when he [Obama] became president, supported higher regulations or bailouts. Everybody acts as if this group of Republicans in the House were transported from Mars to America in November of 2010. It’s not like he [Obama] couldn’t see this coming. So all of this talk about oh, they’re the most radical [Congress] – no.
When Ronald Reagan was the president, the press said he was the most radical, right-wing president – and now everybody loves him. When we were in office in ‘94, everyone said we were one of the most radical right-wing groups ever – now people are even saying you guys were reasonable, you worked with Bill Clinton. That’s cause Bill Clinton met us halfway. We’re hearing this again. What do the Republicans stand for today that they haven’t stood for, for 100 years?
WALLACE: Well, that might tie my brain in a knot. And I’m not adequately caffeinated to answer that one. But Obama has some openings to form alliances with Republicans on immigration. He had an opportunity with Senator Tom Coburn to do something huge on tax reform. It’s not like Obama hasn’t slammed the door in the face of Republicans who have been willing to form coalitions with him. He just passed an extension of his NSA phone-monitoring program. It’s not like there are – there are not a wealth of Republicans who are coming forward to sign on to his agenda because his economic agenda hasn’t worked.
The Wall Street Journal has a brilliant editorial today saying that no president has done worse by the middle class than President Obama. So I think the Republicans are wise to stay away from his economic policies. But this president has not had a lack of Republicans who have been willing to band with him – on issues like tax reform, there was Tom Coburn, on immigration John McCain on the phone with him every other day. There have been Republicans who would have been willing to form alliances with this White House to get big things done, and that is simply not in this president’s DNA to do so.
STEVE RATTNER: Nicole, those are two members out of 535 members.
WALLACE: A president doesn’t need 535 members. The president’s party runs everything. They run the Senate. They run the White House.
RATTNER: The president’s party, if only they ran everything. Then we might actually get something –
WALLACE: They run everything for the –
RATTNER: Nicole, Nicole, you’ve got a House of Representatives that has just passed a set of spending bills, budget that is so – you ask, is this more radical than anything in 100 years? I think the House Republicans, the Paul Ryan budget policies which are the heart of any economic problem, are more radical than anything that’s been passed in the last 100 years. They want to cut twenty, thirty percent –
SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no, no, no –
RATTNER: Joe, they want to cut twenty, thirty –
SCARBOROUGH: Steve Rattner, I will get you clippings from 1995, 1996, 1997 that were saying the same things then that you’re saying now. You know what Bill Clinton did? He sat down with us and he said, I’m going to swallow a lot of things that I don’t to swallow politically and you guys are going to do the same thing. And we came to a budget agreement, and there was a lot of hatred, a lot of acrimony, a lot of yelling. But Bill Clinton knew: I have no choice. They own the House of Representatives, they are carrying the checkbook. This is my greater frustration. There’s blame to go around on both sides. Republicans, obviously, in the House want to see the president fail. That’s fine. But they are in the House, they’ve got the checkbook. And the Senate, I think you’re going to start feeling the pressure, too. There’s got to be a deal that can be made out there somewhere, Steve.
RATTNER: I would love there to be a deal that can be made out there. And Joe, we can debate what went on in 1997, you’re right there was a deal. The deal that was made in 1997 makes what the Republicans are proposing look like something that goes back to the 19th century.
SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no, no. But Steve – this is the last thing I’ll say, and then you go. That’s just not true. We abolished in the House, we passed legislation to abolish four federal agencies. My plan to abolish the education bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., the Department of Education, passed through John Kasich’s budget resolution. These Republicans are proposing nothing as dramatic, sweeping and radical as we did back then, and we still got to a deal.
RATTNER: Right, but right now you have a speaker of the House – and I’m not saying this critically of him, I’m saying it more critically of his members – who can’t bring his members along. You had 98 percent of the Bush tax cuts made permanent at the end of last year without a majority of Republican support, because he could not bring the people from – who are the ideologic purists – along. So look, we can debate this all day long. But the fact is that it’s not just John McCain, it’s not just Tom Coburn, there’s a lot of people to deal with. And by the way, this Congress, as you know, has done nothing. If you were to look back to 2007 – which is only, what, six years ago – by this point in time the Congress had passed 48 pieces of legislation. This Congress has passed 19 pieces of legislation. They are not doing anything.
WILLIE GEIST: Jim VandeHei, though, let’s talk about the substance of this [the president’s economic] speech. Forget the politics for a minute. Was there anything in there – we know there wasn’t a lot new in that speech than what he’s been saying over the last four and a half years. Was there anything in there, anything significant that there could be some movement with Republicans on? Did he introduce a new approach, at least, to something?
VANDEHEI: Almost nothing, no. Here’s the fundamental problem. Joe talks about Bill Clinton. You have a president that’s decidedly to the left of Bill Clinton. And you have a House – and I disagree with Joe on this one. This House of Representatives is much more conservative than the one that he served in. When Joe was in Congress. there were 45 self-described moderate Republicans. There are probably two in this House of Representatives.
When you talk about deals that can be had with a Tom Coburn, with a John McCain – you keep mentioning senators. If we had two power centers in American politics – the Senate and the presidency – all of this stuff can get done. It is the House where you can’t get stuff through. Joe is right. They didn’t fool anyone. Go back and watch the campaign in 2010. You talk about the number of bills that were passed. Forty-five versus 19. They probably say 19 is too many. They didn’t come here to pass laws. They are doing exactly what they set out to do, which makes it almost impossible to get things done.
RATTNER: That’s exactly –
MIKE BARNICLE: Joe – excuse me, Nicole, I love you but I want to ask Joe a question. Joe, it would appear to me just from reading today and observing today and remembering when you were in the House, many members of your party – well, not you – but several members of the Republican caucus in ‘94 and ‘95 would today resemble Hubert Humphrey, compared to the existing Republican caucus. You have a speaker, I would think, John Boehner who is petrified of most of his membership, that they will cost him his job. And you have a substantial percentage of his membership in the House who, I think their mission is – I think they define their mission, I may be wrong. But they define their mission as not what they can do for the country, but what they can undo in terms of government, existing government. Am I wrong?
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know. First of all, I guess if we hadn’t been called the same exact thing by the press that this group is being called by the press, I might not be quite so cynical on that. As far as undoing things, when I got into Congress we had a $4 trillion national debt. Today we have a $16.5 trillion national debt. When I got into Congress, Bob Kerry and Alan Simpson were warning about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid going bankrupt. That was in 1994.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. How long are we? We’re 19 years forward. Nothing has been done other than George [W.] Bush adding another $7 trillion in liabilities to Medicare. And the population getting older. We’re in such a serious situation here right now, that actually undoing some laws doesn’t sound like a bad idea. We passed so much legislation in 2009 and 2010 that expanded the scope of the federal government. I mean, forget about the Tea Party members, forget about me, look at the national polls. Distrust in the federal government is exploding. So, you know, I really don’t think this group is that much more radical than a group that passed legislation to abolish the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, HUD and the Commerce department. That’s what we did. We were pushing to balance the budget in four years, in five years. We wanted to abolish the United Nations, wanted to abolish the IRS. There was some really sweeping legislation that we passed actually through the House of Representatives, or came close. Everybody called us right-wing radicals and nuts.
But then again, that’s what liberals called Ronald Reagan back in the 1980s. The difference is, Mike, here’s the difference. Bill Clinton knew how to use our weaknesses against us. He knew how to make us look like idiots on national television. He knew what issues to pick out and he was skillful and he beat the hell out of us day in and day out. Eventually, not only did Bill Clinton have to come to the center, we had to go to the center because he was pounding us. This president sits in his White House, eventually hops out and gives a campaign speech, comes back home, and he thinks he’s going to reset the debate. It doesn’t happen that way. He’s going to have to think more creatively. Yes, he’s got people that want to kill him politically. Well, so did George W. Bush, and so did Bill Clinton. And they figured out how to get things done. This president, still, I don’t think – and maybe I’m wrong – still hasn’t figured out how to get things done.