Following a closed door caucus meeting this morning, the House Republican leadership — Minority Leader John Boehner (OH), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (VA), and Caucus Chairman Mike Pence (IN) — held a press availability. Asked multiple times by a reporter whether or not the leadership agreed with the White House’s assessment that Rush Limbaugh has become the de facto leader of the Republican party, all three refused to address the question directly. Instead, Boehner and Cantor complained that, in their view, the White House was simply attempting to “distract” everyone from focusing on Obama’s proposed budget:
QUESTION: Mr. Boehner, what’s your response to the White House announcing that Rush Limbaugh has become the leader of the Republican Party, one that’s rooting for Obama to fail…
BOEHNER: The White House has created this big distraction so nobody will pay attention to what they’re doing in their budget. We shouldn’t be distracted. This budget calls for higher taxes and more spending.
QUESTION: How do you see Mr. Limbaugh’s role in the Republican Party?
BOEHNER: This is nothing more than a distraction created by the administration to take people’s attention away from the fact that they’re trying to raise taxes and grow the size of government.
QUESTION: Does Mr. Limbaugh have a role in the Republican Party?
CANTOR: Let me just say this: It is not about Rush Limbaugh. It’s not about Rahm Emanuel. It’s not about individuals right now. This is about real impact on families across this country.
Later in the exchange, when a reporter asked whether or not the leadership sympathized with Limbaugh’s hope that Obama’s policies will fail, Cantor said, “[I]t’s not about hoping that [Obama's policies] fail. No one wants this country or the economy to fail.” Pence, by contrast, tried to talk around the question saying, “Everyone wants America to succeed.”
Pence’s comment about wanting “America to succeed” is revealing because it forms the second half of the argument that Limbaugh makes on his radio show almost daily. As Limbaugh’s argument goes, Obama’s economic policies are misguided and will make the current recession worse. As such, Limbaugh argues, it is reasonable to declare, “I hope Obama fails” in passing his policies, while still hoping that the country as a whole succeeds.
But Pence is no stranger to the first half of Limbaugh’s argument either. Last night on CNN, Pence declared, “You bet, we want [Obama's] policies to fail.” The question is whether or not Pence and the rest of the House leadership would join Limbaugh in refusing to call the prospect of economic growth as a result of Obama’s policies a “good thing for the country.”