Bush Troubles with Congressional Republicans Not New

WaPo fronts a piece by Jim VandeHei under the headline “GOP Irritation At Bush Was Long Brewing.”

President Bush’s troubles with congressional Republicans, which erupted during the backlash to the Dubai seaport deal, are rooted in policy frustrations and personal resentments that GOP lawmakers say stretch back to the opening days of the administration. For years, the Bush White House and its allies on Capitol Hill seemed like one of the most unified teams Washington had ever seen, passing most of Bush’s agenda with little dissent. Privately, however, many lawmakers felt underappreciated, ignored and sometimes bullied by what they regarded as a White House intent on running government with little input from them. Often it was to pass items — an expanded federal role in education under the No Child Left Behind law and an expensive prescription drug benefit under Medicare — that left conservatives deeply uneasy.

What Bush is facing now, beyond just election-year jitters by legislators eyeing his depressed approval ratings, is a rebellion that has been brewing since the days when he looked invincible, say many lawmakers and strategists. Newly unleashed grievances could signal even bigger problems for Bush’s last two years in office, as he would be forced to abandon a governing strategy that until recently counted on solid support from congressional Republicans.

The White House at times has been “non-responsive and arrogant,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “There are a thousand small cuts,” he added, that are ignored when things are going well but “rear their heads when things are not going well.” “Members felt they were willing to take a lot of tough votes and did not get much in return,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), an early critic of the port deal.

Congressional scholar Norman J. Ornstein has written that the recently vented anger, after being suppressed for years out of loyalty or fear, might be seen in psychological terms. He called the condition “battered-Congress syndrome.”

This is hardly front page news. Congressmen always resent presidents, who get all the attention and credit. Presidents always try to railroad policies through Congress, making as few concessions as possible. This is an institutional battle that goes back to the founding of the Republic. James Madison outlined this in Federalist 51, among other places.

[T]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to controul the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controuls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to controul the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to controul itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary controul on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

This policy of supplying by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power; where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other; that the private interest of every individual, may be a centinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the state.

The popularity of a president or a unifying national event like a war can override this institututional jealousy for short periods; if strong enough, even across party lines. The natural order of things soon returns.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rachel says:

    the republican dominated Congress is just trying to distance themselves from an unfashionable president that happens to be a republican. It also seems that they had forgotten about the Clinton/Congress standdown back in the 90’s that stopped government for two weeks.

    I somehow feel that everyone wants to make W. somekind of god and how he should solve everyone’s problems. He’s a human being who’s made mistakes and had some situations where he could not win.
    For example, people conviently forget that Katrina was a natural disaster that destroyed everything in its path, yet they also conviently forget how much smoother things went after Rita. Why is it we look for the worse instead of both the worse and the better?

  2. Bithead says:

    What this ignores is the Congress is the probem.

    As I said the other day:

    If Mr. Bush had a REAL Republican majority, instead of simply a fairly small numerical advantage of R’s to Ds….. a majority such as the Democrats had during their run through the sixties and in the Carter years, I’d be more willing to lay blame at the feet of the one individual. During those years the Democrats that held office were in far closer lockstep with each other than Republicans have EVER been…. even including all the people that have served, then to now.

    However, in all my years on this planet we’ve never had such a majority. Not just a numerical majority of R’s to D’s, but a majority of congressional members who would actually vote like Republicans. As Ramesh points up, Gingrich had a start, but that’s all. Even the Reagan years, productive as they were, and with a small majority in the senate, (but not the house) were not as productive as they might’ve been, because of this limitation. They’ve never really had the power.

    Instead, we found ourselves stuck with such idiots as Chafee, for example. Olympia Snowe. John McCain. (As an aside, it’s telling, I think, that McCain coauthored with registered moon bat Russ Feingold, the biggest travisty Congress has passed in 40 years. In my view, I want him, as a result, nowhere near the White House. Not even for a dinner party. )

    To lay blame for the spending levels, etc, at the feet of Mr. Bush, misidentifies the problem. Such misidentification is always counter-productive.

  3. James Joyner says:


    I don’t disagree that there are a handful on RINOs in Congress, although I’m not sure McCain really belongs in that group. He’s a pain in the butt but he’s conservative on most issues.

    And neither Reagan nor GWB exactly TRIED to hold the line on spending. Yeah, Congress authorized it but neither were willing to veto big budget bills.