Chris Hayes explains to Rachel Maddow why John Boehner is hedging on whether he'd support voting for the middle class tax cuts as he conceded during his interview on Face the Nation last weekend. He knows full well the Senate won't pass it and it gives cover to any of the Republicans in the House that want to vote for it as well. If he's right then Republicans are counting on voters being completely uninformed about what they're doing if they think this strategy is going to pay off with the electorate in the mid-terms.
MADDOW: So, did we just have a big Republican wobble on this issue?
Is their position clear now?
HAYES: I think it is very unclear. But I think part of it has to do with the different political calculations for the different houses. If you‘re John Boehner, you know, all of your members are up for re-election. There is a kind of anti-incumbent fervor and you don‘t want them take—you don‘t want them to have to vote against tax cuts in an election year.
I think McConnell, because there‘s more procedural control in the Senate and because cutting taxes for rich people is the core existential value of the modern Republican Party, he‘s going to make sure that that—he‘s going to do everything in his power to do that and he‘s less worried about the political implications because the races where the really competitive tend to be open seats, they tend to be against Democratic incumbents.
MADDOW: So, you think we‘re going to have a split between House Republicans and Senate Republicans on this, where Boehner actually does let people in the House vote for these things, but it doesn‘t matter because the Senate blocks it anyway. The Senate does hold the middle class hostage for the rich people.
HAYES: See that, yes, exactly that. And I talked to a Republican staffer today and said, look, if you get—on the House side—I said, if you get, if it comes up just the middle class tax cuts, does your—does your member vote for it? He said, sure. Because that‘s an easy vote.
You know, maybe I‘m wrong here, but my sense is that if you let the House vote on this first, it actually gives the Republicans in the House cover. They get to go ahead and kind of had their cake and eat it, too. They can vote for middle class tax cuts and then they can let the Senate hold it up and make sure it doesn‘t actually happen. And if I were the Republicans, I think that‘s the play that they actually would like to see happen.
MADDOW: But don‘t—isn‘t there an advantage to Democrats at sort of making John Boehner put his money where his mouth is—making him cast this vote against tax relief for super rich people in a way that drives division in the Republican Party?
HAYES: I think, yes. I think there‘s an argument for that, but I think there‘s a responding argument which says you basically give them a mulligan. You let all these Republicans vote for tax cuts then you don‘t necessarily get it in the Senate, right? We‘ve seen this happen. I mean, we certainly saw it on Waxman-Markey on the cap-and-trade bill, something passes in the House and the Senate kills it.
And so, you‘ve allowed—you‘ve taken away this cajole, right? The cajole right now, the thing the Democrats want to talk about the last, you know, month and a half, two months of this election, is this issue: tax cuts for the rich or tax cuts for the middle class. If you let them water it down by having and giving Republicans an opportunity to vote for just tax cuts for the middle class, you take that away as a political issue or you at least cloud the salience of it.
MADDOW: If you let the House vote first.
HAYES: See, that‘s the key, right? And that‘s, I think, why there was some reporting today, you know, on “Talking Points Memo” and some other places saying the House wasn‘t going to move ahead with the vote. And I think that‘s part of the strategic calculation here.
The other calculation I should say—I talked to a staffer for a Democrat who‘s been in the House for a while and faces a tough challenger who says, we don‘t want to vote on anything. We don‘t want to vote on anything, because our challenger isn‘t in the House. Any vote we take is going to kill us. All we want to do is put our head down and get through these last two months.
So, there‘s some of that intense, kind of defensive crouch, risk aversion that‘s also driving.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about whether or not the Democrats are really going to press ahead with this strategy. Frank Rich, obviously, very influential on the left, wrote this weekend about how FDR in 1936 was able to turn populist anger about the economy into political advantage—even though they were the party, Democrats are in the party in power, by saying that Republicans were the party of the financial bad guys, the people who were getting rich while everyone else suffered, and he welcomed their hatred.
Is there any—is there any—is there any hope—are there any legs to this as a potential strategy for this for the Democrats left?
HAYES: Well, there are legs. Although I would say that GDP growth in 1936 was actually net—was quite positive. The country was actually growing, you know? It had this horrible trough. And part of the reason Roosevelt was so popular at that point, because GDP growth was actually really quite remarkable in that year. It then went back down. There was a kind of double dip.
So, look, 90 percent of this fate is sealed, OK? The economy is terrible. People are ticked off. There‘s a huge enthusiasm gap.
But the margins do matter, and the margins at this point—five seats, six seats, 10 seats in the House—are the difference between Speaker Pelosi and Speaker Boehner, and we all remember what a Republican House looked like in the late ‘90s, and they were relatively sane compared to now, right? So, the message is going to matter at the margins, and the margins really do matter—even though most of this is being driven by structural factors.
MADDOW: Chris Hayes, Washington editor for “The Nation” magazine and an MSNBC contributor—making an even for you unusual amount of sense this evening, Chris.
Full transcript available here.