Congress is full of factions in both parties. Many of them are ad hoc and temporary—say, two groups that coalesce around differing versions of a bill to do pretty much the same thing. They try to persuade their colleagues, one group wins or loses, and though there may be some hurt feelings, they know they'll be working together again eventually. And of course, there are ideological allies who work with each other more frequently and may come to see some in their own party as opponents or even enemies. But what you don't see too much of is real cloak-and-dagger, House of Cards-style plotting, with clandestine meetings, vicious backstabbing, and high-risk conspiracies. It happens now and again, like the bungled coup that attempted to unseat Newt Gingrich in 1997. But it's the exception, not the rule.
So fans of Republican infighting, rejoice. Looks like there's something similar going on right now. Robert Costa of the National Review reports that Senator Ted Cruz is leading a bunch of House Republicans in a genuine conspiracy to screw over Speaker John Boehner. It starts with a conference call involving Cruz and House conservatives, deciding how to react to Boehner's plan to make insane demands now to avert a government shutdown, instead of making insane demands in a couple of weeks to avoid a default on the debt:
By the call's end, there was a consensus: until the CR talks are complete, Republicans should whip "no" on Boehner’s debt-limit plan, as a way of preventing the leadership from directing the strategy. And that's exactly what happened late Thursday afternoon: GOP whip Kevin McCarthy worked the floor, but couldn't find the votes for Boehner's debt-limit plan. After McCarthy reported back about the Cruz-inspired uprising, the leadership shelved it.
Later Thursday, Cruz met again with House conservatives at a venue near the Capitol. According to one House member, the bicameral bloc talked deep into the night about the CR and how to pressure Boehner. At the top of the agenda: making a one-year delay of Obamacare a requirement for government funding, and to accept nothing less, should the defunding effort continue to unravel. There is fear the Boehner is resistant to making that demand as part of a CR, and conservatives discussed ways to force his hand.
What I really love, however, comes in some follow-up tweets from Costa. First this:
Finally, and most importantly, this:
The rest of us look at this situation and see a bunch of maniacs hurtling the country toward disaster. But they're having a blast! After all, spending all day sitting in a bunch of committee meetings and shaking hands with constituents is booo-ring. But being a part of a real conspiracy to take on the Washington powers-that-be, just like you said you were going to do when you ran for Congress as a Tea Party champion? Now that's fun. I think we can say with confidence that this crisis is not going to end with these guys backing down.
And one other thing: If a Democratic senator tried to undermine Nancy Pelosi the way Cruz is undermining Boehner, she'd walk across to the other side of the Capitol, knock politely on his office door, and explain to him that he made a grave mistake messing with her. Then just to make sure he understood, she'd punch her fist through his ribcage and pull out his still-beating heart so he could see it before he died. But John Boehner is no Nancy Pelosi.