As we've noted here, it's sometimes been difficult to tell the difference between what the Vox says and what Fox News says, and at Wednesday's White House daily briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest drew laughs from reporters when he confused the two outlets. When The Hill reporter Justin Sink asked Earnest about an essay that was published on Ezra Klein's Vox.com today, Earnest confessed initial confusion at the question:
You can watch Earnest's full boilerplate answer at the end of this post, but before I get to explaining what's really going on, check out this great zinger that Earnest gets off when Sink tries that old Beltway trick of blaming debt ceiling gamesmanship on the White House:
Sink: The only reason it was a hostage situation was you guys flatly said you would not sign any bill that overrode Obamacare.
Earnest: No, I think the reason it was appropriately described as a hostage situation is that Republicans took hostage the full faith and credit of the United States government. The fact that we received a ransom note doesn't mean that we're responsible for the hostage-taking, does it?
Remember that one, because we're going to need it in a couple of months.
Earnest simply misheard the question, but Vox and Fox are fast becoming kissing cousins of sorts. If Fox News is the Obama presidency via a deranged monkey at a typewriter, then Vox is fast becoming Obama administration fanfic as written by sullen teenagers with erectile dysfunction. Matty Yglesias' entire post is predicated on his intuition that Democrats will lose so badly in the midterms that Obama will feel like a great big loserpants, and not want to deal with Republicans being mean to him. Here's as close as he gets to logic:
His argument, in other words, would have been that House Republicans were obstructing something the public, the business community, and even a bipartisan majority of the Senate wanted. But can you really cry obstruction right after losing an election? Republicans would be able to claim not just that Obama was stretching his authority in a novel way, but doing so specifically to overturn an adverse result in the midterms. "When I take executive action, I want to make sure that it's sustainable," Obama told NBC's Chuck Todd. Is it really going to look more sustainable after voters elect more anti-immigration Republicans in November?
Well, unless Republicans can go back in time and un-vote for immigration reform, yes, you can still cry obstruction of something Republicans are obstructing. Yglesias is right that the "sustainable" argument is crap (yet not complete crap), but not for the reasons Yglesias cites. The whole reason Obama promised action in June was that the wind was at his back, but the "border crisis" created enough of a problem for red-state Democrats that his national advantage on the issue didn't matter for the midterms. Once the midterms are over, immigration returns to being a huge winner for Democrats, who are only defending two competitive blue state seats in 2016, versus eight for Republicans, including Florida.
Earnest went on to avoid answering whether the president would flatly refuse to bargain away immigration for the debt ceiling, and simply stated that he doesn't believe Republicans would make such a foolhardy move. What he didn't say was "bring it on," because the White House actually does want them to bring it on. Going into 2016, what Democrat wouldn't want Republicans to die on the immigration hill that delivered Obama 70% of the Hispanic vote in 2012, and die on that hill by strapping on another debt ceiling suicide vest?
Here's Earnest's full exchange with Sink: