WASHINGTON -- It’s uncertain what congressional politics will look like without John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Boehner had long been attacked by far-right members of his caucus, who claimed he wasn't conservative enough. At the same time, many black Americans deplored his stance on issues such as health care and unemployment benefits.
But now, some members of the black community said they worry that Boehner's replacement as speaker will be even more receptive to the House GOP's conservative faction:
Boehner's rise to speaker of the House in 2010 was aided by the tea party. But Boehner was not always willing to fight Democrats head-on. He tried to be a negotiator, sometimes open to reaching across the aisle while managing more extreme members of his party on issues such as immigration, Obamacare, defunding Planned Parenthood and other gripes that could lead to government shutdowns (which tend to hit black Americans the hardest). Boehner's differences with these members of his own party ultimately were his undoing.
"To the conservative base, they feel as though Speaker Boehner hasn't been enough of an attack dog against President Obama," Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) told The Tom Joyner Show last week. The next speaker "without question" will be more conservative than Boehner, Butterfield said, which will mean "more extremism within the Republican conference.”
Boehner’s ability to strike deals between Democrats and tea party backers allowed him to quiet some aggressively conservative Republicans. Doing so gave less extreme elements of the GOP, including Boehner, more credence, according to Lorenzo Morris, a political science professor at Howard University.
“If you have Republican leadership, or physical Republicans, who are segmenting themselves from the extremists, like the moderates seem to be doing now ... you'll have much more of an ability for moderates in both parties to get together,” Morris told The Huffington Post.
“Had Boehner not resigned voluntarily, the ideological differences there seem, would seem to have been growing to such an extent that he would have been forced out,” Morris added.
Boehner’s sudden resignation may set a dangerous precedent for his successor. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the leading contender to replace Boehner, made promises to conservatives during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News segment last week.
“Defunding Planned Parenthood, defunding executive amnesty and immigration, defunding Obamacare -- and this Iranian deal is an unmitigated disaster that will lead to a modern day Holocaust,” Hannity said, focusing on the top concerns of conservatives. “Will you tell conservative America tonight that you will fight to the end … to defund those issues and use the power of the purse?”
"The answer is yes,” McCarthy responded.
If the next House speaker is willing to bow to strident elements of the Republican Party, it's easy to see why black Americans are concerned -- especially when Black Lives Matter, immigration reform and women’s rights are leading political issues. Tea party supporters tend to be incredibly averse to change and to people different than them, according to Christopher Parker, an associate professor at the University of Washington.
“In fact, they want to look backwards in time to a time during which their social group -- their power and cultural hegemony was unquestioned," Parker told Salon.
“People who tend to support the tea party, they tend to be sexist, they tend to be homophobic, they tend to be xenophobic; so it’s not just about race," Parker said. It’s about difference. It’s about anything that violates their phenotypical norm of what it’s supposed to mean to be an American: white, mainly male, middle-class, middle-aged or older, heterosexual, and native born. Anything that falls beyond that description is considered not to be a true American.”
This may help explain why leaders of white supremacist groups said they were glad to see Boehner go. Their main gripe was that he was “too weak” on immigration.
Boehner, to black Americans, was far from perfect. But sometimes, it's better the devil you know.
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