The metaphors are flying. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner said President Obama should not take executive action to limit deportations of undocumented immigrants because “when you play with matches, then you take the risk of burning yourself” and because “he will poison the well” when it comes to relations with Congress. Not to be outdone, presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned that executive action would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”
All of which suggests that up until now, the water has been potable and the bull friendly.
The truth is rather different. Ever since Obama became president, Republicans have been opposing his agenda militantly while periodically warning that if he pushes forward with it they’ll stop being so cooperative.
In his book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do, Robert Draper reports that on the night Obama was inaugurated, top House and Senate Republicans met to plot their strategy. They agreed, in Draper’s words, to maintain “united and unyielding opposition to the president’s economic policies”—even though Obama had not yet outlined what those policies would be. As California Representative Kevin McCarthy, now the House majority leader, put it, “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill.” In Michael Grunwald’s book, The New New Deal, former Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich confirms that “If [Obama] was for it, we had to be against it” because “all he [McConnell] cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory.”