After a tumultuous process that included an 11th-hour dropout and a protracted begging/negotiating session, Republicans finally have their new leader. Freshly-minted Speaker of the House Paul Ryan took a victory lap of Sunday shows this weekend, and the results were telling in several ways. The first is that Ryan essentially delivered four versions of what amounted to the same press release about the promise he made in order to secure his new position.
Last week, Ryan signed on to a letter agreeing not to pursue immigration reform for the remainder of the Obama presidency, unless such reform meets with the approval of the constituents of Alabama’s 5th congressional district. That pretty much rules out anything that doesn’t include moat monsters and a fleet of ED-209s. On Sunday, he was asked to square this agreement with his rhetoric about a new dayof gettin’ things done, and gave the same response each time:
BASH: You told members of the Freedom Caucus that you were not going to touch immigration reform, something that you worked really hard on. You went out and campaigned with one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress, talking about it. Do you see any future for actually getting that done? And why did you make that promise if you want to do big ideas?
RYAN: Because this president tried to write the law himself. This president went beyond his separation of powers to try and write the law. Presidents don’t write laws. Congress writes laws.
This president tried to go around Congress to unilaterally write immigration law. So, specifically on this issue, you cannot trust this president on this issue. So, why would we want to pass legislation on a very divisive issue with a president we can’t trust on this issue?
In every one of those interviews, the host elected to move on, rather than to challenge what Ryan had said, despite ample basis for such a challenge. The letter Ryan agreed to said nothing about President Obama‘s “trustworthiness,” it said that both legal and illegal immigration are hurting Americans. More than that, though, Ryan’s charge against President Obama is complete garbage.
President Obama didn’t try to “write the law,” he used executive action in the same way that many white presidents have (or should I say “non-inner-city” presidents), a distinction that a journalist should try to make. even if you think that action was overly broad.
Ryan’s answer also ignores the fact that President Obama only took executive action after House Republicans blocked a bill that had passed the Senate, which had more than enough votes to pass the House, and which contained everything Republicans say they want. Paul Ryan calling President Obama “untrustworthy” is like Darth Vader saying he can’t work with Luke Skywalker because he took unilateral action on Death Star Reform.
But even under its own logic, Ryan’s answer makes no sense. Congress is one of two checks on executive power, so if Obama really is tyranting all over the joint, the only thing Congress can do about it is pass a law. It’s like saying you won’t take over bartending from Bill Cosby because you don’t trust Bill Cosby.
This doesn’t say as much about Paul Ryan (who is just a Republican being a Republican) as it does about the uselessness of the Sunday shows, the crown jewels of establishment political journalism. Every week, I get a raft of emails in the morning with transcripts from just one of those shows, and it completely relieves me from the effort of watching any of them because they will all feature the same exact press releases masquerading as interviews.
But then, there’s the exception that proves the rule, as with Ryan’s interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press. In a particularly revealing exchange, Chuck tore apart Ryan’s promise of a stuff-accomplishing new day in Congress by asking him for just one idea that Ryan’s House can take action on to impress the American public. Ryan had just finished rattling off his “we need to be a proposition party, not just an opposition party” bit for the ninetieth time, when Todd tripped him up by asking for just one of those propositions. Ryan even tried “We can do more than just one thing” as an opening gambit, but Todd cleverly parried by again asking him for just one:
CHUCK TODD: Give me something that you think you can do in the next six months, one issue, one piece of–
REP. PAUL RYAN: We can do more than just one thing.
CHUCK TODD: I understand. But give me one thing that the country will be impressed with. Something maybe you work with the president, maybe you confront him. But what is one big piece?
REP. PAUL RYAN: The economy, working families are falling behind. The economy is stale. Poverty– there are around 46 million people still living in poverty. Our foreign policy is a disaster. We’ve got to offer alternatives to these things. Obamacare, I mean, look at the disaster that the rollout of Obamacare continues to be. I think we owe the American people a very specific agenda for how we would do things differently on these issues.
You can almost see Ryan blinking “H-E-L-P M-E” in Morse code, because even if he did have one idea, just one, that he could work on with the President and the Democrats, it wouldn’t be safe for him to say it out loud. Despite his talking points, Ryan’s job isn’t to unite the country or the Congress, it’s to synchronize Republicans against Obama, to make their anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-woman, pro-billionaire agenda more palatable.
Unfortunately, we have a news media that refuses to challenge Republicans on their lies, or even to call them lies. Instead, we get dutiful stenography for Paul Ryan, and 13 minutes of grilling on one subject for Hillary Clinton, for example. When supporting your “both sides do it” narrative requires you to be this one-sided, maybe it’s time to switch things up.
Cross-posted from Mediaite