House of Cards
With party discipline fraying, Republicans fear that congress could become a free-for-all
Indiscipline. "I think he [Bush] has lost his grip on the decision-making process. It's not just trying to distance yourself for election reasons," says Mickey Edwards, a former eight-term Republican congressman from Oklahoma. "I think it's a deeper disagreement." The Senate and White House have been sharply at odds over proposed legislative restrictions to harsh interrogations in the war on terrorism, with the Senate passing a bill that outlaws cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. The move succeeded over the objections of Vice President Dick Cheney. who had personally lobbied on Capitol Hill for the CIA to be exempted. The House will consider a version of the bill, but the White House has already threatened a veto.
As the split between the White House and Capitol Hill widens, fiscal conservatives and moderates in the party have broken out in a brawl after Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq swelled the budget. Conservatives say the stakes have never been higher: "We are simply on an unsustainable trend on spending," says Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican. "If we can't even take this miniscule step toward fiscal responsibility, then we're done as a functioning majority. You have members who simply will turn their cannon fire away from Democrats and toward their own leadership."
Despite the infighting, Republicans have managed to notch some legislative wins, including a Senate bill that would extend tax cuts. They are also working toward an agreement to extend the Patriot Act. As lawmakers head home to their districts for recess, they are likely to get an earful from grumpy constituents. For those in contested races--and there may be more of those than expected--that may mean continuing to distance themselves from the party and the president.