Conventional wisdom is malleable, and it appears that conventional wisdom on the wisdom of shutting down the government is shifting, at least within the Republican party. While the old CW was that it was a terrible idea that Republicans suffered for, and it would be foolish to do it again, the new CW seems to be, “Hey, didn’t we shut down the government and win the next election?”
The other day, influential conservative journalist Byron York began pushing this line, writing that the 2013 shutdown “so deeply damaged GOP prospects that Republicans exceeded expectations in 2014, winning control of the Senate in spectacular fashion and making unexpected gains in the House.” And now, as Dave Weigel reports, Republicans are taking it up:
In [conservative] circles, it’s clear that the president can be stared down on immigration. And it’s clear that a fight, even if it led to shutdown, would be either rewarded or forgotten by voters when they returned to the polling booths in November 2016. The reality of the Affordable Care Act had, after all, ended up winning elections for them in 2014. Why wouldn’t the reality of Obama’s new blunders elect the Republicans of 2016?
It’s all deeply frustrating to Democrats. Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly, whose district’s contractors and federal employees recoiled at the shutdown, had subsequently watched his state reelect its Republican congressmen and nearly knock off its popular Democratic senator. There clearly was no shutdown hangover for Republicans.
“From their point of view, frankly, while it had a temporary impact on their polling numbers, they fully recovered from that and paid no price at all on Nov. 4,” said Connolly as he headed into a vote. “Politicians are all Pavlovian at a very elemental level. What’s rewarded, what’s punished. They look at that, and they think it seems to have been rewarded. It certainly wasn’t punished.”
This is entirely true. Approval of the Republican party took a nose dive in the wake of the shutdown, and though it is still viewed negatively by most Americans, that didn’t stop Republicans from having a great election day. Because as at least some within the GOP understand, you can create chaos and crisis, and large numbers of voters will conclude not that Republicans are bent on creating chaos and crisis but that “Washington” is broken, and the way to fix it is to elect the people who aren’t in the president’s party. That in this case that happened to be precisely the people who broke it escaped many voters. The fact that the electorate skewed so heavily Republican in an election with the lowest turnout since 1942 also helped them escape the consequences of their behavior.
One of the things that interests me here is Weigel’s observation, which I’ve heard from others before, that conservatives believe “that the president can be stared down on immigration.” The fact that they’ve lost these showdowns again and again doesn’t seem to register. They simultaneously believe that Barack Obama is a tyrant in the grip of a mad obsession to destroy America, and that he’s a wimp who will back down if they show some spine.
If that’s what you think, a shutdown becomes a win-win scenario. If you threaten to shut the government down and Obama relents, then you’ve won. If he doesn’t relent and the government does shut down, you’ll win anyway, because that’s what happened before.
It now looks like Obama is going to announce his new immigration policy this week, at which point Republicans will freak out. And we may be seeing the front end of an evolution in their thinking, not just from “Shutting down the government would be bad for us” to “We could shut down the government and be just fine,” but from there all the way to “Shutting down the government would be genius.” Just you wait.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 19, 2014
Senator Mitch McConnell said yesterday that he would not shut down the government, over immigration or anything else, after he takes over as Majority Leader in January. On the same day, Speaker John Boehner refused to rule out a shutdown. Both were being deceptive, but Mr. McConnell, as usual, was a little more clever about it.
The House produced last year’s government shutdown when it insisted on attaching the repeal of various parts of the Affordable Care Act to spending bills necessary to keep the government open. That was a huge embarrassment for Mr. Boehner, making his caucus appear feral and ungovernable, and he has no desire to repeat it.
But his newly expanded Republican majority actually is a bit wilder than the outgoing one, and it is inflamed by President Obama’s plans to take executive action on immigration by sparing up to 5 million people from deportation. Some on the far right want to pass no spending bills if the president takes action; others, as National Review reported, want to shut down only specific departments, like Homeland Security (which includes Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Mr. Boehner is playing his customary game of appearing provocative in public, to keep his most extreme members at bay, while trying to cut some kind of deal in private. But if he or his members think a shutdown of the Homeland Security department is going to work, they’re kidding themselves. During the last shutdown, most of the department stayed open, in part because many of its functions are considered essential and are funded by fees rather than Congressional appropriations. To have any real leverage, House Republicans would have to threaten to shut down more than that.
Mr. McConnell wants his chamber to appear reasonable and governable in contrast to the House, and likes to portray himself as the leader who averts shutdowns. But he’s the one who has already threatened to use spending bills to stop any environmental regulations that might restrict the burning of coal, which is the same as a shutdown threat.
His plans are evident in the exact wording of his statement yesterday: “We’ll not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the national debt.” But if he can pin the shutdown on the president, then he can claim he wasn’t the one who closed the government’s doors. During the last shutdown, the spending bills never reached the president’s desk for a veto, because the House’s demands were rejected by the Senate, and everything was blamed on “Congressional gridlock.” With Republican control of both chambers, things will be different, and a shutdown remains very much on the table.
By: David Firestone, Taking Note,The Editorial Page Editors Blog; The New York Times, November 14, 2014
One week ago, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave an interview vowing that a Republican Senate majority would attach partisan riders to spending bills in an effort to blackmail President Obama into rolling back his agenda — a tactic that would almost certainly lead to another government shutdown — his campaign tried to walk back his remarks.
“Evidently Alison Lundergan Grimes’ interpretation of how the U.S. Senate works is that senators must rubber-stamp President Obama’s agenda or the government shuts down,” McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said in response to the Democratic candidate’s critique of McConnell’s strategy. “Unlike Grimes’ commitment to the Obama agenda, Senator McConnell will fight for Kentucky priorities whether the president is interested in them or not.”
But new audio obtained by The Nation confirms that McConnell meant exactly what he said. In a June 15 speech to a Republican donor conference led by Charles and David Koch, McConnell was secretly recorded laying out largely the same case that he pitched to Politico last week:
So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what’s called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We’re going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board (inaudible). All across the federal government, we’re going to go after it.
To be clear: If Republicans load must-pass appropriations bills with riders to undo the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, or any other key Democratic achievements, President Obama will veto them. Unless Republicans relent, the government will shut down. McConnell’s campaign (and some impartial observers like Bloomberg View columnist Jonathan Bernstein) may claim that that isn’t the minority leader’s intent, but without the shutdown threat, Republicans would have no leverage to “go after” the Democratic agenda.
McConnell had plenty else to say at the Koch gathering (for example, he remarked that “the worst day of my political life was when President George W. Bush signed McCain-Feingold into law,” suggesting that campaign finance reform outranks 9/11 on his list of disasters). But the promise of more congressional brinksmanship will likely prove to be the key takeaway, given the obvious political implications.
Nobody should be surprised that McConnell is eager to escalate a confrontation with the White House. After all, he’s far from the only Republican to promise it. Earlier this week, Marco Rubio made similar remarks with regard to immigration. Over in the House, startlingly influential Rep. Steve King (R-IA) did the same.
Republicans are being quite honest about what the GOP would do with control of Congress. At this point, the only question is whether voters will listen.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 27, 2014
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but yesterday, as part of his 180 degree turn on the topic, Sen. Marco Rubio was said to be “hinting” that Republicans might just, oh, shut down the government or something if Barack Obama took major executive action to expand (or even maintain) DACA. Today Rubio’s new ally on immigration policy, Steve King of Iowa, was more explicit, per a report from the Des Moines Register‘s Kathie Obradovich:
Congressman Steve King said today the threat of another government shutdown could be Republicans’ leverage to pass border security and immigration legislation this fall.
Congress must act before the end of September to either approve a budget or continue spending at current levels to avoid a government shutdown. House Speaker John Boehner has said he expects action on a short-term continuing resolution next month.
King, R-Kiron, said “all bets are off” on a continuing resolution if President Barack Obama follows through with reported plans to deal with immigration issues without Congress.
“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear …,” King said. “I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that….”
Even if Obama does not act unilaterally on immigration reform, King says he believes the continuing resolution is still a bargaining chip for GOP priorities. “When we hear some of our leaders say there will be no government shutdown, that’s the political equivalent of saying there will be no boots on the ground,” he said.
Now the congressional leadership probably won’t like this kind of talk. But like Rubio himself, they’ve pretty much delegated immigration policy to Steve King. So they can’t really complain if Captain Ahab thinks every conceivable issue in Washington is subordinate to bringing down the white whale.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 27, 2014
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is often hailed as one of Washington’s most tactically cunning politicians, and for the most part it’s true. But McConnell does have a serious political flaw: His tendency to actually tell the truth about those tactics.
Senator McConnell did it again in an interview with Politico, published on Wednesday. Previewing a Republican-controlled Senate, McConnell made it clear that he plans to escalate congressional confrontation with the president, potentially leading to another government shutdown:
In an extensive interview here, the typically reserved McConnell laid out his clearest thinking yet of how he would lead the Senate if Republicans gain control of the chamber. The emerging strategy: Attach riders to spending bills that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care, consider using an arcane budget tactic to circumvent Democratic filibusters and force the president to “move to the center” if he wants to get any new legislation through Congress.
In short, it’s a recipe for a confrontational end to the Obama presidency.
“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell said in an interview aboard his campaign bus traveling through Western Kentucky coal country. “That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”
When asked if this strategy could force a government shutdown, McConnell “said it would be up to the president to decide whether to veto spending bills that would keep the government open.”
“He could,” McConnell later said of the probability that President Obama would veto must-pass appropriation bills that are loaded with riders to undo policies that the White House supports. “Yeah, he could.”
It’s difficult to overstate what a horrible idea this is. Although some Republicans may not have noticed it, the last government shutdown was a debacle. The GOP’s hopeless effort to blackmail President Obama into defunding the Affordable Care Act failed miserably, wasting $24 billion and dragging Republicans’ poll numbers into the sewer along the way.
The poll numbers haven’t really recovered, but the combination of President Obama’s own political struggles and a very favorable electoral map still have them set up to make gains in 2014. In fact, Republicans have a good chance of winning the Senate. But promising to ramp up the brinksmanship that caused the last shutdown gives Democrats their best argument for why voters should deny Republicans full control of Congress.
Democrats recognize this, of course; numerous party leaders have already turned McConnell’s remarks against him, and they are certain to resurface in Democratic campaign pitches from now until November. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat giving McConnell the fight of his career in Kentucky’s Senate race, surely appreciates the minority leader’s Kinsley gaffe most of all.
If Republicans do manage to win the majority and follow through on McConnell’s threat, it would virtually guarantee that they don’t hold control for long. The 2016 Senate map is as favorable to Democrats as this year’s is to the GOP. It will be difficult enough for Republicans to hold on to seats in blue states like Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin; if they spend the next two years threatening vital services for the sole purpose of making a hopeless ideological stand, it will be nearly impossible.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, August 21, 2014