Skip to main content

New 'leadership,' same agenda

By Steve Israel
updated 4:05 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, right, was just elected House majority leader, and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, left, was just elected House majority whip.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, right, was just elected House majority leader, and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, left, was just elected House majority whip.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Steve Israel says House Republicans' new leaders have same party priorities
  • Israel: Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise were elected on pledges of fealty to the tea party
  • Republicans, he says, just replaced one leader of the GOP shutdown with another

Editor's note: U.S. Rep. Steve Israel is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and represents New York's 3rd Congressional District. You can follow him on Twitter @IsraelDCCC. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- House Republicans just went through the pageantry of the changing of the guard with their leadership elections. But new names on the door won't change their party's priorities: protecting special interests, the ultra-wealthy and their own perks at the expense of middle-class Americans.

The term "Republican leadership" has become the biggest oxymoron in politics. If we learned one thing from Republicans' elections, it's that their leadership simply follows their tea party base in an unceasing march to the right.

Following their losses at the ballot box in 2012, Republicans rolled out a post-mortem calling for a move to the middle, recognizing that their days as a competitive national party were numbered if they continued on their current rightward path.

Since then, we have seen Republicans across the country do the exact opposite. They have grown more paranoid, more insular and more fearful. It's that fear of the tea party that shut down the government to disastrous consequences last year, and it's that fear that just caused them to replace one leader of the Republican shutdown with another.

Rep. Steve Israel
Rep. Steve Israel

In 2011, when John Boehner took over as speaker, he was billed as a moderate. And Eric Cantor was called mainstream. But both alternated between being hamstrung by and kowtowing to their right wing and drove their majority off a cliff.

And the numbers speak for themselves: after three and a half years, they have turned Congress into the least-trusted institution in America. Gallup now pegs confidence in Congress at just 7% — the lowest confidence rating for any institution ever recorded by Gallup in the past 40 years.

With ratings that abysmal, one might think that House Republicans might use a turnover in leadership as an opportunity to steer their sinking ship in a new direction. Think again.

Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise are members of the same tea party club and were elected on pledges of fealty to the tea party agenda. And that agenda will keep turning off the American public, dragging their ratings down and dragging Republicans further and further outside the mainstream.

The tragedy is that the middle class pays the price.

How did we get to this place, where the House majority continues to move so far from the center of American politics that they can no longer see it? NBC News provides some clues, finding in its polling that "the Tea Party is in a VERY different place on key issues" than even other, mainstream Republicans.

Take immigration as an example. Just 19% of tea party Republicans believe immigration helps the United States, compared to 47% of the country at large. With House Republicans beholden to this tiny minority of the country at large, they will continue to drag their party to the right — and their so-called leadership will have no choice but to follow, if they want to keep their jobs.

You can change the names on the door, but the out-of-touch agenda remains the same. If the country is to have any hope of combating the serious challenges facing us and creating an economy that works to lift up middle-class families, we need more than just a change of figureheads in the House.

We need to change the House majority.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT