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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.

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