Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador met with House Speaker John Boehner today, but the sophomore lawmaker is withholding comment on the nature of their conversation.
"I had a very good meeting," Labrador told my McClatchy colleague, David Lightman, this afternoon. Labrador smiled and laughed when Lightman spoke with him in the Speaker's Lobby outside Boehner's Capitol office, but declined to elaborate.
Boise State political scientist David Adler says Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, got it right when he questioned Labrador’s effectiveness after Labrador helped lead a failed effort to unseat Boehner on Jan. 3.
Adler said Labrador’s “grandstanding” is “not a promising path to legislative success.”
Labrador could face discipline, including removal from committees and denial of funding in his western and northern Idaho district, Alder said.
“Those actions may or may not occur, but what is likely to occur is that Boehner will make it clear to Labrador that no bill that he sponsors will go anywhere,” Adler said Tuesday.
Though Labrador appeared on KBOI radio's Nate Shelman show Monday and blasted Simpson for being too chummy with Boehner, he's not talking today.
"His conversations with the Speaker will remain private," Labrador spokesman Phil Hardy told me Monday. This afteroon, Hardy confirmed the meeting took place, but again declined to provide details.
Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, also said on Monday that Boehner would have no comment. "I expect it will be a private conversation," Steel said.
Labrador and Simpson, made big news Sunday when they quarreled publicly about Labrador trying to unseat Boehner, R-Ohio. Labrador defended himself against Simpson's claim that he'd compromised his credibility and effectiveness.
Labrador said he didn't expect to be disciplined and that he hoped to convince Boehner to be stronger in fighting for spending cuts with President Obama.
“He is my speaker and I want him to be a more effective leader, and I think I will help him with that,” Labrador told me Friday.
Adler said he didn’t expect either Labrador or Boehner to talk about their conversation, but “it will be left to Labrador to explain to his constituents why he cannot move legislation which, of course, is testifying to his own ineffectiveness.”
Adler is director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy, which was founded by former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus. In 2010 and 2011, Adler directed the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho, which is named for former Republican Sen. Jim McClure.
In an essay Adler shared with me Tuesday, he said Simpson’s style is similar to that of the effective deal-making of McClure and Andrus.
Labrador, on the other hand, has adopted an approach that is “more ideological and reflective of an insurgency mentality,” Alder wrote. That style “is one that is likely to win attention, particularly media attention (which he has received), and designed to win primaries and elections in a safe district, but is not a promising path to legislative success.”
Alder’s full essay follows:
I've thought about the tension between Labrador and Simpson, for some time, and it reveals differences of temperament and approach to governance. It speaks, also, to the quality of representation that Idahoans enjoy in the House.
1. Simpson's approach to governance, which is focused on effectiveness, is similar to the approach of the late Sen. Jim McClure, and Governor Cecil Andrus, who emphasized compromise as the engine of government. Like McClure and Andrus, Simpson believes that half a loaf is better than none, leaving for tomorrow the opportunity to win another victory, or even a partial victory. This incremental approach has long been the hallmark of this nation's most effective representatives, dating back to the efforts of Clay and Webster and Lincoln. Like these other legislators, Simpson, Andrus and McClure no doubt believed that their political values were superior, but understood that everyone else believed their own values were superior. If legislators insisted on holding their ideological ground and digging in their heels, governance, defined as the art of the possible, would become an impossibility. But compromise would permit deal-making and progress, as imperfect and unsatisfactory as it might be.
2. Labrador's approach, more ideological and reflective of an insurgency mentality, is one that is likely to win attention, particularly media attention (which he has received), and designed to win primaries and elections in a safe district, but is not a promising path to legislative success. Whether sincere or not, grandstanding on matters of ideology and "principles" is resented by fellow legislators who see such behavior as the easy and, frankly, lazy way to carry out the duties and responsibilities of their office. Many legislators view it as self-indulgent. Many, after all, would like to vent and engage in denunciation of measures on ideological grounds, as witnessed in the speeches that Members deliver on C-Span to an empty chamber, but they recognize that the hard work of legislation demands restraint and discipline. Self-indulgent displays of ideological rhetoric and absolutist positions on issues like taxes and spending undermine both congressional relations and the effectiveness of the Member.
3. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, "Boehner does to Labrador." Since the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks through Machiavelli and Shakespeare, it has been an axiom of politics that if you try to kill the King, you'd better succeed. Labrador and his fellow insurgents failed to kill the King. Failure often brings punishment. House Speaker Joe Cannon was a striking example of a Speaker who would mete out punishment to those who crossed him. He was not only Speaker, but chaired the Rules Committee and personally chose chairmen and even members of committees. He was ruthless in punishing his enemies and those who challenged him.
There are other examples of punishment. After the 1924 presidential election, a couple of prominent Republican Senators endorsed Robert LaFollette for president; they were stripped of committee positions. FDR, of course, tried--unsuccessfully--to "purge" certain Senators in 1938 with whom he had crossed swords. Each of them survived.
Boehner doesn't have Cannon's power, of course, but he has considerable means with which to "punish" Labrador. On the one hand, Boehner is perceived to be in a "weakened" state, undermined by Tea Party members of his caucus, which doubtless encouraged some, including Labrador, to attempt to dethrone him, but a slightly weakened and wounded Speaker, as Machiavelli taught, can actually increase his power by striking at those who challenged his role. Formal or informal sanctions, expressed or implied, would send a strong message to other members of the GOP caucus. The punishment could range from subtle to heavy-handed actions, including stripping Labrador of some committee assignments and ensuring that some requested funding does not flow into the First Congressional District.
Those actions may or may not occur, but what is likely to occur is that Boehner will make it clear to Labrador that no bill that he sponsors will go anywhere. We'll never know, of course, what transpires in the forthcoming meeting between the Speaker and Boehner. Neither participant is likely to be forthcoming in an explanation. But if the Speaker says or indicates to Labrador that his proposals will never see the light of day, it will be left to Labrador to explain to his constituents why he cannot move legislation which, of course, is testifying to his own ineffectiveness. A legislator left twisting in the wind, without credibility and clout, has, at best, an uncertain future in Congress.
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