It was a quiet meeting on the eve of a political explosion.
At 4 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 or so members of the 2012 GOP freshman class of the House of Representatives gathered in a conference room in the Capitol Visitor Center for what’s become a monthly conclave. For the junior representatives, this was a chance to get some face time with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Everyone knew that the next evening, President Barack Obama planned to deliver an in-your-face rebuke to Boehner, who’d warned the president not to “play with matches” and act on his own to suspend deportation of millions of immigrants.
All of those gathered had reason to be angry: Here was the president pretending, absurdly, that he hadn’t just had his butt whipped in the midterms, and defying the biggest GOP House majority-to-come in more than 80 years. Almost exactly a year before, some in the room had been among the most vocal Republicans pushing for a government shutdown as a legislative strategy against Obama.
But now came a stern message from Boehner: The GOP shouldn’t take the bait this time. And as discussion moved around the table, there was little desire for another shutdown, even from the conservatives, over the president’s executive action on immigration. No one wanted to let Democrats off the mat and hand them a political win — especially not now, barely two weeks after the GOP’s historic midterm victory. “There was definitely a sense that they didn’t want to do that [the 2013 shutdown] again,” said an aide to one of the participants.
Outwardly, Republican rhetoric toward the president hasn’t softened much, especially since Obama’s speech Thursday night. The consistent meme is that he is behaving like an unconstitutional monarch.
“The president has taken actions that he himself has said are those of a ‘king’ or an ‘emperor’ — not an American president,” Boehner said in a statement the morning after the speech. “With this action, the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek. And, as I told the president yesterday, he’s damaging the presidency itself.”