Monday night's 78-17 procedural vote in the U.S. Senate to clear the path for $1 billion worth of aid to Ukraine as it battles the Russian annexation of Crimea represented precisely what you would expect Congress to do in the wake of an international crisis: to act in a bipartisan manner and send a unified message to the world. Yet despite that bipartisanship, the push for an emergency U.S. loan guarantee for Ukraine languished in Congress for weeks because House Republicans objected to the measure moving through the Senate.
Specifically, they opposed a provision in the package that would have revamped the International Monetary Fund and let developing countries such as Ukraine borrow more money while giving other nations more control over the organization (the U.S. would retain its veto). The reforms were negotiated by President Obama in 2010 and have broad international support. House Republicans wanted the IMF language stripped from the senate bill. And because the press covered for them.
In the end, a negotiated deal on Capitol Hill was reached and the IMF language was removed. But while the crucial aid package sat idle for weeks, the press chalked up the legislative morass to Congressional dysfunction and "gridlock."
The two sides were "locked in a partisan fight over the details of the package," according the Los Angeles Times, which stressed lawmakers have been unable to "set aside partisan squabbles." The Hill reported "Congress this week will try to get its act together" regarding Ukraine, while Reuters detailed how "a partisan political dispute" was stalling the final passage of the aid bill.
"Ukraine Aid Bill Still Stuck In Washington Gridlock," announced a Time headline.
But was the Ukraine battle really an example of "gridlock"? And were both sides really to blame? Or was the press guilty, once again, of staking out the safe, middle ground in order to inoculate itself from cries of "liberal bias,' and from having to explain how all-consuming and destructive Republican obstruction has become, especially in the House?
Question: Was the Ukraine aid dispute "partisan"?
The White House supported the initiative and lots of Republican senators voted in favor of it this week, including several key players.
"Although I remain concerned by the proposed IMF reforms included in the legislation, the need to send a strong bipartisan message of solidarity to the people of Ukraine and a statement of resolve to Moscow far outweighs any misgivings I and others might have."
"To allow [the IMF] to be a reason not to move forward after Ukraine has been the subject of a military invasion is almost incredible to me."
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House and in the Senate supported the bill. Wasn't that the opposite of a "partisan" showdown? Didn't Monday's 78-17 vote indicate the Ukraine aid bill actually enjoyed "widespread bipartisan support" as the Associated Press put it; backing that was only stymied by Republicans in the House (and the outside, right-wing groups that pressure them) who for years have adopted a "procedural sabotage" strategy. It's a radical blueprint that has extended as far as obstructing disaster relief aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
So wouldn't a more accurate headline this week have read, "House Republicans Promise To Stall Vote On Ukraine Aid"? It would have, but the Beltway press has a long history of not labeling GOP obstruction for what it is.
The meek press has only emboldened Republicans, who actually used the Ukraine aid bill to try to force the administration to cave on a completely unrelated topic: to delay new Internal Revenue Service rules aimed at policing the political activities for tax-exempt nonprofits, or 501 (c)(4)s.
How's that for rallying around the president during a time of international crisis? As Steve Benen noted at MSNBC, perhaps the only surprise was that the House GOP's extortion demands didn't center on Obamacare, like they did with last year's misguided government shutdown.
Truth is, we've seen this act before. As with immigration reform and extending unemployment insurance benefits, Republicans in the senate worked with Democrats to pass important legislation, only to have House Republican refuse to act. And in the case of immigration reform, there are enough votes from Republicans in the House today to pass the landmark bill but Speaker of the House John Boehner won't allow a vote. He won't even allow the House to enter into negotiations with the Senate to try to craft a bill.
But how does the press treat the House GOP's naked obstruction? It blames both parties for "gridlock." And once again with the Ukraine coverage, the context was lacking. Meaning, the Ukraine aid showdown was hardly unique in terms of the permanent roadblocks Republican construct for Obama, yet virtually none of the coverage this week bothered to connect the Ukraine aid impasse with the existing laundry list of blocked Obama initiatives.
Instead, many in the press positioned the Ukraine story as an institutional showdown between the two Congressional bodies. "Unlike many battles in Congress, the differences holding up the aid are as much between the two chambers as they are between the two parties," reported The Hill.
That wasn't quite accurate. There were no House Democratic leaders who vocally object to IMF reform. There were however, some House Democrats who thought the Ukraine aid should be passed without the IMF provision simply because they knew the GOP's obstructionist drill; they knew House Republicans would block a vote and Democrats felt strongly the $1 billion aid needs to be approved quickly for Ukraine.