Republicans Might Finally Be Willing to Play Nice in Congress

Despite Obama's adversarial tone in the State of the Union, Representative Aaron Schock thinks his party will be more willing to cooperate with Democrats this year.
More
Representative Aaron Schock, Republican of Illinois (Associated Press)

Representative Aaron Schock has a metaphor for the Tea Party: They're the toddlers of Congress.

"Like a little kid, you’ve got to teach them: When you touch a hot stove, it’s gonna burn ya. Some of them have touched the hot stove," he said during a discussion hosted by The Atlantic and National Journal on Wednesday. The "hot stove" in question includes the handful of recent dramas that have been politically disastrous for both parties, including the government shutdown, debt-ceiling showdowns, and endless Obamacare battles.

Schock, just 32 years old himself and four years into his tenure in Congress, made a point of emphasizing how a lack of legislative experience has crippled the GOP's agenda. "The newsflash is half the Congress wasn’t here when the president first showed up. Half the Congress wasn’t here when healthcare passed. Half the Congress is not used to the institutional process." This is at least part of what caused the the fall's dysfunction, Schock thinks—unrealistic attitudes about how individual politicians should push partisan agendas.

This gridlock has created frustration in and outside of Washington. In a Gallup poll this fall, just nine percent of Americans approved of how Congress is doing. And in his address to the nation on Tuesday night, President Obama took a defiant tone toward the legislative branch, capitalizing on this spirit of citizen annoyance. He emphasized the power of executive orders, touting "the pen and the phone" as his tools of choice for accomplishing policy goals in 2014. 

But according to Schock, Obama might be striking a prematurely aggressive posture. Even though congressional leadership is gearing up for yet another debt-ceiling debate this spring, Schock says that extreme threats like another government shutdown won't be part of the GOP strategy—even for Tea Partiers. "When you look at some of the more conservative members of the conference ... they are now saying they are not going to shut the government down," he said. 

Since the 2012 elections, a handful of "more conservative members" of the GOP have had an outsized influence on Republican politics. "Depending on deaths and retirements and resignations, we have about a 15-seat swing" on legislative votes, Schock said. "The challenge for us is that 15, 16 members of Congress can become the ex officio speakerit becomes very difficult, then, to govern."

If Schock is right about his party's most partisan members backing off hardline strategies, 2014 might look a lot different from 2013. He expressed hope for bipartisan collaboration on immigration reform, tax reform, and trade policy. But it's also possible that Schock is just an especially vocal proponent of a view that's still a minority among House Republicans. "I have been very outspoken with my leadership, using the news media, that we need to negotiate bipartisan agreements in the House," he said.

"Using the news media," indeed. Schock may be right about the year ahead in the House, but as that comment indicates, it's a little hard to tell whether his predictions are based on insider knowledge or are just an example of skilled spin. He may just be a vocal proponent of a collaborative Congress that everyone—including the president—has stopped believing in. 

Jump to comments
Presented by

Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of TheAtlantic.com, where she also oversees the National Channel and writes about religion and culture.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

Just In