From Terri Schiavo to “death panels,” Congressional recesses have long bred political controversies. But while some (like Schiavo) fizzle, others, (like “death panels”) have a lasting impact on policy and politics. An open question for now is whether the row over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” will be with us past August.
Republicans and conservative activists have made no secret of the fact that they want the issue to have legs, but that gets trickier when politicians return to Washington to actually govern. One option Republicans will have to pressure Democrats on the issue will be to force Democrats to vote on the question of whether they support the cultural center and mosque.
“There are no plans to do that at this point,” says a top Republican House aide. “It’s a month away, and I’d guess any chances we get to message…will be focused on jobs.”
But Democrats acknowledge it’s nonetheless a possibility. House Republican leaders have weighed in against the project in no uncertain terms. With the assent of the House parliamentarian, they could introduce a motion to recommit a piece of Democratic legislation, arguing that it should include language urging that the mosque be blocked. Separately, any member can introduce a privileged resolution forcing all members to take a position on the issue. The obvious goal would be to create fodder for negative advertising ahead of the November midterms.
Democrats aren’t eager for that fight, and would attempt to deflect the issue.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they did that,” says a Democratic leadership aide. “Maybe within their base this is helpful, but how does this help them grow at all?”
“I would really be surprised if voters there actually care about a local New York City issue,” the aide added.
“Our members would just have to say ‘I’m not sure what a mosque in New York City has to do about jobs in my district,’” adds a top Democratic strategist who insists that the “Ground Zero Mosque” flap will be as fleeting as Schiavo or Shirley Sherrod.
Democrats have done a better job in recent months at not getting tied into knots over tough procedural votes. But they still blink from time to time. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) gained notoriety earlier this summer when he tore into Republicans on the House floor for killing legislation providing health care to 9/11 first responders. Republicans were able to kill that bill, though, because they threatened to introduce a motion to recommit related to illegal immigration. Dems countered by attempting to suspend the rules to pass the legislation directly, which requires two-thirds support in the House.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.