GOP leaders slow to RSVP

GOP LEADERS SLOW TO RSVP…. The White House will host a summit on health care reform a week from today, with top lawmakers from both parties. As of this morning, the number of Republicans who have formally agreed to participate? One: Sen. Mike Enzi (R) of Wyoming.

The number is likely to grow, but it’s interesting to see the GOP hesitate.

Congressional Republicans have continued this week to dismiss President Barack Obama’s bipartisan health care summit as a useless political stunt, even as they send strong signals that they will in fact attend. […]

House and Senate Republican leaders have still not formally accepted Obama’s invitation to the health care summit, which was issued Friday. However, Cantor told Fox News on Feb. 9 that the Republicans would be there.

Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) said this week that Republicans should at least consider skipping the event, and other GOP leaders have at least hinted in that direction. The fact that the White House has called on Republicans to come to the event with their own plan for reform ups the ante a bit, since the GOP fundamentally opposes comprehensive reform and has nothing valuable to offer.

But I’d be very surprised if Republican invitees decided to simply skip the summit altogether. The party clearly worries that the White House is setting a “trap,” but even if they’re right, they have to show up anyway.

The consequences of a boycott would be too severe. Even if we put aside traditional norms — when the President of the United States invites you to the White House for a chat, you show up — the optics would likely be devastating for Republicans.

The GOP is already perceived as being unwilling to compromise. If Obama extends a hand, and gives Republicans a chance to engage in good-faith talks, but is rejected by GOP leaders who won’t even attend a bipartisan summit, it would be a far bigger disaster for the minority party than a substantive conversation about how wrong they are about the issue itself. Nothing would look worse for Republicans than a bunch of empty GOP chairs at a televised gathering.

Indeed, a boycott might stiffen Democratic spines a bit, and make reform more likely to pass. Even the David Broders of the world would likely be outraged.

If they show up for a debate, they’ll lose. If they skip the debate, they’ll lose more.

Part of me hopes they really do boycott. It would change quite a bit about the larger debate.