‘There’ve been a couple of stumbles,” John Boehner acknowledged Tuesday.

The House speaker had spoken with dry understatement.

What has happened since Republicans took full control of Congress three weeks ago has been less a stumble than a pratfall involving the legislative equivalent of a banana peel, flailing arms, an upended bookcase, torn drapes and a slide across a laden banquet table into a wedding cake.

On Monday, a rebellion by House conservatives forced Boehner to scuttle plans to pass border-security legislation.

Last week, a rebellion by Republican women caused Boehner to pull from the House floor a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks.

At the same time, Boehner provoked an international incident, and divided the American Jewish community, by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks before the Israeli elections – without consulting the White House. The invitation, intended to boost prospects for tough new sanctions against Iran, seems instead to have emboldened opposition to the sanctions.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Democrats used procedural powers to delay passage of the Keystone XL pipeline bill – new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top priority – after McConnell retreated on his promise to allow freewheeling amendments.

The Republican majority in both chambers remains split over the scope of legislation authorizing the use of force against the Islamic State, over a bill granting President Obama new trade powers and over whether to force a showdown next month – and risk a partial federal shutdown – to protest Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi spun out of control Tuesday as Democrats complained that Republicans were abusing their authority and Republicans threatened to spray the Obama administration with subpoenas.

The Republican majority is discovering that running Congress is harder than it looked.

Chaos could be found around every corner of the Capitol on Tuesday morning: Boehner, after meeting with his House Republican caucus, explaining the failure of the border bill; Benghazi panel chairman Trey Gowdy promising to engage the administration in “formal legal” proceedings; and not much of anything happening on the Senate floor, where the pipeline debate had stalled.

The Dirksen Senate Office Building, meanwhile, became a legislative three-ring circus. On the ground floor met the Armed Services Committee, divided over whether to authorize the use of ground troops in Syria and Iraq. On the fifth floor, Democrats on the Banking Committee withdrew their support for rapid passage of an Iran sanctions bill – fallout from Boehner’s Netanyahu gambit. And, on the second floor, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, faced down hecklers during U.S. trade representative Michael Froman’s testimony.

The courtly Hatch appealed for calm. “Let’s just stop the cheap politics,” he pleaded. Tall order, Mr. Chairman. Cheap politics is about the only thing still happening on Capitol Hill.

 Cheap: House leaders called off a vote, scheduled for Wednesday, on the border-security bill because they didn’t have enough votes after a conservative mutiny. They claimed they pulled the bill because of the snowstorm, but that obvious fiction was exposed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “Thanks to house of Rep not moving ahead w BorderSecurity bill,” Grassley tweeted. “It wld not secure border.”

 Cheap: The Benghazi committee’s Gowdy, who began his inquiry last year with a bipartisan flourish, spent Tuesday’s hearing shouting at administration witnesses. Democrats on the panel countered with bitter complaints that Gowdy and his staff had interviewed witnesses without informing the Democratic side or sharing exculpatory information they found.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., for her part, said Gowdy was on a “quest to catch this mythical unicorn.”

A unicorn? Why not? You never know what Boehner and his men might stumble into next.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

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