Stark Contrast Between Republicans and Democrats

Heather Cox Richardson

The fight over how we conceive of our federal government was on full display today.

The Biden administration announced the creation of the American Climate Corps. This will be a group of more than 20,000 young Americans who will learn to work in clean energy, conservation, and climate resilience while also earning good wages and addressing climate change. 

This ACC looks a great deal like the Civilian Conservation Corps established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democrats in 1933, during the New Deal. The CCC was designed to provide jobs for unemployed young men (prompting critics to ask, “Where’s the She, She, She?”) while they worked to build fire towers, bridges, and foot trails, plant trees to stop soil erosion, stock fish, dig ditches, build dams, and so on. 

While the CCC was segregated, the ACC will prioritize hiring within communities traditionally left behind, as well as addressing the needs of those communities that have borne the brunt of climate change. If the administration’s rules for it become finalized, the corps will also create a streamlined pathway into federal service for those who participated in the program. 

In January, a poll showed that a climate corps is popular. Data for Progress found that voters supported such a corps by a margin of 39 points. Voters under 45 supported it by a margin of 51 points. 

While the Biden administration is establishing a modern version of a popular New Deal program, extremists in the Republican Party are shutting down the government to try to stop it from precisely this sort of action. They want to roll the government back to the days before the New Deal, ending government regulation, provision of a basic social safety net, investment in infrastructure, and protection of civil rights.

Extremists in the House Republican conference are refusing to acknowledge the deal worked out for the budget last spring by President Biden and Republican speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). Instead, in order to pass even a continuing resolution that would buy time for Congress to pass an actual budget, they are insisting on cuts of up to 8% on discretionary spending that Senate Democrats, as well as Biden himself, are certain to oppose.

The White House has noted that the cuts the Republicans demand would mean 800 fewer Customs and Border Protection agents and officers (which, in turn, would mean more drugs entering the United States); more than 2 million women and children waitlisted for the WIC food assistance program; more than 4,000 fewer rail inspection days; up to 40,000 fewer teachers, aides, and key education staff, affecting 26 million students; and so on. 

House speaker McCarthy cannot corral the extremists to agree to anything unless they get such cuts, which even other Republicans recognize are nonstarters (those cuts are so unpopular that Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News reported today that Republicans are somewhat bizarrely considering changing their messaging about their refusal to fund the government from concerns about spending to concerns about border security). 

Meanwhile, the extremists are threatening to throw McCarthy out of the speakership. There are rumors that Republican moderates are considering working with Democrats to save McCarthy’s job, but Democrats are not keen on helping him when he has just agreed to open a baseless impeachment inquiry into the president in order to appease the extremists. 

“If you’d asked about two months ago I would have said absolutely,” Representative Dean Phillips (D-MN) told Manu Raju, Lauren Fox, and Melanie Zanona of CNN. “But I think sadly his behavior is unprincipled, it’s unhelpful to the country,” he said.

As a shutdown appears more and more likely, even Republicans acknowledge that the problem is on their side of the House. Until the 1980s, funding gaps did not lead to government shutdowns. Government agencies continued to work, with the understanding that Congress would eventually work out funding disputes. But in 1980 a fight over funding the 1,600-employee Federal Trade Commission led President Jimmy Carter to ask Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti if the agency could continue to operate when its funding ran out. Civiletti surprised participants by saying no. 

Four years ago, Civiletti told Ian Shapira of the Washington Post that his decision was about a specific and limited issue, and that he never imagined that politicians would use shutdowns for long periods of time as a political weapon. And yet, shutdowns have become more frequent and longer since the 1990s, usually as Republicans demand that Congress adopt policies they cannot pass through regular procedures (like the 34-day shutdown in 2019 over funding for the border wall former president Trump wanted).

Many observers note that “governing by crisis,” as President Barack Obama put it, is terribly damaging and that Civiletti’s decision should be revisited. Next month’s possible shutdown has the potential to be particularly problematic because there is no obvious solution. After all, it’s hardly a surprise that this budget deadline was coming up and that the extremists were angry over the deal McCarthy cut with Biden back in May, and yet McCarthy has been unable in all those months to bring his conference to an agreement. 

Republicans appear resigned that voters will blame them for the crisis, which, honestly, seems fair. “We always get the blame,” Representative Mike Simpson (R-ID), a senior appropriator, told Katherine Tully-McManus and Adam Cancryn of Politico. “Name one time that we’ve shut the government down and we haven’t got the blame.” 

Meanwhile, the House extremists continue to push their vision for the nation by undermining the institutions of the government. The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), today held what normally would have been a routine oversight hearing focused on policy, law enforcement, and so on. Instead of that business, though, Jordan and the hard-right Republicans on the committee worked to construct a false reality in right-wing media by attacking Attorney General Merrick Garland over his role in the investigation of President Biden’s son Hunter, begun five years ago under Trump. 

Glenn Thrush of the New York Timesnoted drily that “[m]any of the claims and insinuations they leveled against Mr. Garland—that he is part of a coordinated Democratic effort to shield the Bidens and persecute Mr. Trump—were not supported by fact. And much of the specific evidence presented, particularly the testimony of an investigator who questioned key decisions in the Hunter Biden investigation, was given without context or acknowledgment of contradictory information.”

Instead, Jordan and his extremist colleagues shouted at Garland and over his answers, producing sound bites for right-wing media. Those included the statement from Representative Victoria Spartz (R-IN) that the rioters at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, were actually “good Americans” who brought “strollers and the kids.” Even as both Biden and Garland have prioritized restoring faith in the Justice Department after Trump’s use of it for his own ends, the extremist Republicans are working to undermine that faith by constructing the false image that the Department of Justice is persecuting Trump and his allies.  

Their position was not unchallenged on the committee, even within their own party. Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) defended Garland from their attacks, while Democrats on the committee went after the Republicans themselves. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) accused Jordan of making the Judiciary Committee into a “criminal defense firm for the former president.” 

Garland, who is usually soft-spoken, pushed back too. “Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate,” he told the committee. “I am not the president’s lawyer. I will add I am not Congress’s prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people.”

“We will not be intimidated,” he added. “We will do our jobs free from outside influence. And we will not back down from defending our democracy.”

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