MSNBC Panel Agrees: Boehner Can't Handle Republican 'Clown Farm,' Pelosi a Much Better Speaker

Alex Wagner appeared positively giddy over the House of Representative’s failure to pass the farm bill Thursday, using the bill’s defeat as an opportunity to rail against John Boehner and the House Republican caucus on Friday’s Now.

Wagner’s all-liberal panel joined in on the host’s routine GOP-bashing, with Michelle Goldberg berating the party’s “kamikaze ideology” and Eugene Robinson claiming “a huge chunk of [Boehner’s] caucus doesn’t want to pass anything.” All four guest panelists on the program got the chance to scold Republicans, in what was a vicious indictment of the party over the first ten minutes of the show.

Wagner kicked off the liberal vitriol, fawning over Reps. Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi’s criticisms of Republicans in the wake of the farm bill vote:

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer did not stand idly by, and instead offered the GOP a heaping dose of real talk.

(...)

But the ultimate smackdown was delivered by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who knows a thing or two about discipline, and excoriated the clown farm across the aisle.

The rest of the panel then jumped in, with the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson chiding Speaker Boehner, and The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg sneering:

These people - I can't imagine any amount of political sorcery that would make the House Republican caucus, or at least a large chunk of it, willing to play by normal political rules.

Jared Bernstein went on to compare the Southerland amendment to policies of the former segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). But these inflammatory comments weren’t even the most convoluted of the segment. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias decided to add his own dubious logic to the conversation:

But the same bill, it preserves a lot of money for farm subsidy programs, for farmers whose average incomes are about 15 percent higher than the average American household, whose average incomes have been rising over the past 15 years, while it's been falling for the rest of the people. So, they have had a choice of where does the money come from? Does it come from poor people who need food, or does it go to relatively rich people who grow food? And they sided with the relatively rich people.

Farmers, though, struggled with millions of other Americans during the recession. And to suggest that farmers who make 15 percent more than the average American household are “relatively rich” seems unlikely at best. But I doubt the Beltway insiders at the Lean Forward network understand the struggles of farmers across the nation.

Wagner later acknowledged that Congress has to pass a farm bill eventually, but I find it doubtful the MSNBC host will care that it’s passed – that is, as long as she gets to vilify Republicans every step of the way.

See the relevant transcript below:


MSNBC
Now with Alex Wagner
June 21, 2013
12:00 p.m. Eastern

ALEX WAGNER: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer did not stand idly by, and instead offered the GOP a heaping dose of real talk. [Start video.]

REP. STENY HOYER: The majority leader continues to want to blame the Democrats for his inability and the Republicans's inability to give a majority vote to their own bill!

(...)

We will take no blame for the failure of the farm bill. None, zero. As much as you try to say it, you can't get away from the statistics, 62 – otherwise known as 25 percent of your party – voted against a bill. [End video.]

WAGNER: But the ultimate smackdown was delivered by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who knows a thing or two about discipline, and excoriated the clown farm across the aisle. [Start video.]

REP. NANCY PELOSI: It's always interesting to me when people blame other people for their own failures. If we ever came to you when we had the majority and said we didn't pass a bill because we didn't get enough Republican votes, well, you know, that's really – it's silly. It's sad. It's juvenile. It's unprofessional. It's amateur hour. [End video.]

WAGNER: And indeed, the amateur hour headlines are rolling in. Once again, questioning Speaker John Boehner’s ability to control his troops. Six months ago, Republicans embarrassed the gentleman from Ohio by refusing to back his ‘Plan B’ debt deal. Six months later, Speaker Boehner is now so accustomed to rumors regarding his impending dismissal, that he has taken to making jokes about it. [Start video.]

UNIDENTIFIED NBC NEWS REPORTER: Speaker Boehner, Representative Rohrabacher said that if you bring immigration reform to the floor without the support of the GOP conference you will lose your job. Do you think that's accurate?

SPEAKER BOEHNER: Maybe. [Crowd laughs. End video.]

WAGNER: In an interview with CNBC presaging yesterday’s bloodletting, Boehner acknowledged that getting stabbed in the back is just – hey, it's just part of the gig. [Start video.]

SPEAKER BOEHNER: As the speaker, I take a lot of hits. I get a lot of hatchets thrown at my back every day. Listen, it comes with the territory. [End video.]

WAGNER: The continual backstabbing and frontal assaults prompted one Democratic aide to tell the Huffington Post: “no wonder he smokes.” But the National Review summed up Boehner’s troubles succinctly, observing: “the honey badger that is the House GOP don't care.” [Start video.]

UNIDENTIFIED YOUTUBE NARRATOR: Oh, the honey badgers are just crazy! [End video.]

WAGNER: Joining me today, Washington Post columnist and MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson. Senior contributing writer for the Daily Beast, Michelle Goldberg. Business and economics correspondent for Slate Matthew Yglesias. And senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and an MSNBC contributor, Jared Bernstein. Thank you all for joining me on this day of days. Eugene, it's pretty amazing to me that the House Republicans are pinning this, or trying to pin this, on the Democrats.

EUGENE ROBINSON [laughing]: Yeah. I mean, you know, one wonders what Nancy Pelosi really thinks of that.

WAGNER [laughing]: Exactly.

ROBINSON: I wish she would speak plainly. You know, John Boehner really is in a pickle, because a huge chunk of his caucus doesn’t want to pass anything. You know, they don't want to pass a farm bill, they're certainly not going to want to pass immigration reform. They don't want to do anything, basically. And he does. So, what’s a solution there? I'm not sure. You know, he could ram through immigration and ram through the farm bill, and lose his speakership.

WAGNER: Ram through implies taking the lead, which John Boehner has proven himself constitutionally unable to do.

ROBINSON: Exactly. And he talks about backstabbing and hatchets and stuff like that. You know, speakers aren’t supposed to – you have a problem right, they’re supposed to be afraid of you.

WAGNER: And they could get stabbed from the front ostensibly by the other party, but he's actually acknowledging that people in his own party are –

ROBINSON: They're supposed to be afraid you're going to turn around and smack them down, right?

WAGNER: Exactly.

ROBINSON: And they're not.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG: I actually think – I mean, I can't believe we're both somewhat sticking up for John Boehner, but to say – you can't be a leader with a caucus that is kind of constitutionally unable to follow, right? These people - I can't imagine any amount of political sorcery that would make the House Republican caucus, or at least a large chunk of it, willing to play by normal political rules. And actually govern, as opposed to holding fast to their, you know, kamikaze ideology.
           
WAGNER: I actually don't feel bad for John Boehner anymore. I mean, they put the [Rep. Steve] Southerland amendment and they tack that on to this bill and forfeited Democratic votes as a nod to these ideologues on the far right, who then mutinied! And that is terrible, terrible politics.

JARED BERNSTEIN: Thank you for bringing that up. I don't think people, including some of the media reports I’m reading this morning, really understand just how far to the right this bill was. And it's the Southerland amendment that is the most draconian example of that. This is an amendment that says, if through no fault of your own you can not find a job or a training program to get in, then the state can cancel your food stamps. That is for you –

GOLDBERG: And your family.

BERNSTEIN: And your kids. So you could be a single parent, you could be a disabled person. You could totally want to get a job or to be in a training program, and be kicked off the rolls. Now here's the thing. Why would any state opt into that? This is 100 percent federal money. Because the Southerland amendment pays you a bounty. Half of the money you save from kicking people and kids off the food stamp rolls, you get to keep.

WAGNER: But Matt –

BERNSTEIN: Jesse Helms in his wildest dreams.

WAGNER: This represents a major pivot to the right. Norman Ornstein says today, “the real power center in the House is not Boehner. It’s not Cantor. It’s not Ryan. It’s not McCarthy. It's the extreme right. This shows the real dilemma ahead for a speaker who is very weak and very conscious of his weakness within the party.” I say, stop listening to them. If you're going to try and do anything, you're going to have to do it with the Democrats, you’re going to have to do it with Nancy Pelosi, so go there.

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Well, absolutely. And you know what's really striking here is the, sort of, hypocrisy of it. You say, well why are you taking this money away from poor families, and they say well, we've got too much spending in Washington. But the same bill, it preserves a lot of money for farm subsidy programs, for farmers whose average incomes are about 15 percent higher than the average American household, whose average incomes have been rising over the past 15 years, while it's been falling for the rest of the people. So, they have had a choice of where does the money come from? Does it come from poor people who need food, or does it go to relatively rich people who grow food? And they sided with the relatively rich people.

WAGNER: I mean, and therein lies the rub. You talk about the social safety net, Michelle, right, and we talk about what the Republicans are trying to do or not do. Eric Cantor was out there on the floor of the House, pushing forward the Southerland amendment – and then post hoc, after the fact, saying oh this isn't about shredding the social safety net.

GOLDBERG: But this shouldn't surprise us, right? I mean, this is the party whose standard bearer spoke contemptuous in the last elections – contemptuously of people who feel they are entitled to food. You know –

BERNSTEIN: I would add the following. I don't think there was any safety net program, maybe unemployment insurance, that actually did a better job in the depths of the great recession, of truly cutting poverty for the lowest income people. And actually, served as a good stimulus for the economy at the same time.

(...)

ROBINSON: So what does John Boehner do with this mess, right? If he's got people like this, and then he’s got his more mainstream Republicans, or what's left of them. Nancy Pelosi would argue that there are ways to get around that. That – and she would point to instances where she had to pass legislation with Republican support. And she found a way to let Democrats who were opposed to it, like legislation continuing to fund the Iraq War. She found ways to let Democrats, who were opposed to it, vote their conscience but not stop the funding. Because the funding had to be approved. And she told them, I don't care what you think. I agree with you, but it's got to get through, and this is how we're going to do it. You vote your conscience, we get it through, and not everybody is happy, but we move on. Boehner doesn't do that.

WAGNER: Well, I mean, that's the question, right Matt? There's a Senate bill that's been approved. And there has to be a farming – at some point, we have to have a farm bill. So Boehner really has, I think, the path of lightness and the path of darkness. He can go down the road paved by the Club for Growth, issue even more draconian cuts and maybe get the support of the raucous caucus, but what does that practically mean with reconciliation?

YGLESIAS: We're going to see this time and time again. I mean, this isn't the only legislation that’s going to need to pass this session. And the fact of the matter is, there is no bill that is so extreme for the right wing of his caucus that can pass even the House of Representatives, much less with the Senate. So, you know, he has to decide. Is he going to govern in partnership with Democrats? There's a divided government, that's who can get bills passed. Or is he going to keep putting us through this charade, where first the bill goes right, then it fails anyway, then we all sit around for days, say oh, what's going to happen? He's got to learn how to count votes. We saw going all the way back to TARP that he can't get this right the first time. It’s part of your job as a leadership team. And then needs to decide, if people are too extreme to work with, then he has to work with Democrats.