Republican Winners of the Shutdown Standoff
Lawmakers who salvaged some messaging, found winnable fights to pick, or staked out some 2016 ground.
October 17, 2013 - 3:51 pm
WASHINGTON — “There are no winners here,” President Obama declared Thursday as he took a victory lap at the final passage of a clean continuing resolution to end the 16-day government shutdown.
There are some early political winners — but not necessarily among the key players in the standoff.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) fundraising was a winner, pulling in $1.19 million through his re-election committee and PAC in the last quarter, which included his September marathon speech on the Senate floor, and gathering a lengthy campaign mailing list from more than 2 million petition signatures at the Don’t Fund Obamacare site. But there aren’t indications that the presumed 2016 hopeful has done anything to win votes in a general national election. It also is uncertain how Cruz’s young Senate career will proceed or be perceived over the next few years — he’s introduced nine standalone bills and resolutions in the 113th Congress, two of those dealing with the repeal or defunding of Obamacare. A Pew Research Center for the People and the Press survey released Wednesday confirmed that Cruz’s popularity has soared among the Tea Party, but unfavorable ratings for the Tea Party movement are the highest ever at 49 percent.
Asked by Politico who the winners of the shutdown were, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) replied, “The people that managed to raise a lot of money off this.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has been a potential rising star in his own right but shaped up in the standoff as Cruz’s No. 2 despite his call for a defunding of Obamacare in the next spending bill at the beginning of July.
And House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) outcome remains to be seen. He’s safe in his speakership, but threw up the white flag to end the shutdown after he couldn’t bring his final compromise to the floor for a lack of caucus support. “We fought the good fight; we just didn’t win,” Boehner said, failing to note it wasn’t exactly a fight he was looking to pick.
Yet there are some Republicans who have come out ahead over the course of the shutdown.
Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.): Every time the flame-maned, baritone congressman from Oklahoma hit the news channels during the shutdown, the GOP gained back a few P.R. points. Liberals on Twitter buzzed about how rational and reasoned the second-term congressman sounded and how the Republican Party should put him front-and-center more often.
In a war that was just as much about messaging gone awry as legislative text, congressional Republican leaders found an ideal messenger in Lankford. He’s risen quickly in the House to chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and his savvy extends beyond being a talking head: In March, as the government closed in on another budget deadline, Lankford reintroduced the Government Shutdown Prevention Act to create an automatic continuing resolution for any regular appropriations bill not completed before the end of the fiscal year. After the first 120 days without an agreement, this automatic funding would be reduced by one percentage point and would continue to be reduced by that margin every 90 days.
“Every time Congress and the president miss a statutory budget deadline, the fallback position is another government shutdown or one more continuing resolution to fund the government at current, unsustainable levels,” Lankford said back then.
Last night, Lankford stressed there are “real problems” with Obamacare that need to be addressed and noted he’s “never been supportive of shutdowns.”
“I think it’s the wrong way to be able to run government. There is a way to be able to fix that. And hopefully in the days ahead, we’ll be able to run my bill. It’s actually fixed this in the days ahead,” he told CNN.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): Cruz’s potential 2016 challenger hung around just enough to show his support for an Obamacare repeal, but notably hung back just enough to let Cruz own a shutdown unpopular among the general electorate.
At the Values Voters Summit last weekend, Paul’s speech focused not on the shutdown but on violence against Christians around the globe “as if we lived in the Middle Ages or as if we lived under early pagan Roman rule.” As Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin has rallied Tea Party support against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Paul not only offered McConnell his early endorsement but the junior and senior senators were caught strategizing on a hot mic in the early days of the shutdown.
Months after his 13-hour filibuster of the John Brennan nomination over concerns about domestic drone use, Paul showed up for Cruz’s 21-hour speech for what seemed like symbolic purposes as Cruz noted he’d showed up for Paul’s filibuster.
“I thought I would come down and make sure the senator had comfortable shoes on, make sure he is getting enough to eat — try not to eat on television. That is a little free advice that sometimes shows up,” Paul said on the floor that night, noting Cruz “has done a good job of bringing attention” to Obamacare flaws.
“Tonight, a deal was struck to re-open the government and avoid the debt ceiling deadline. That is a good thing,” Paul said of his “no” vote on the Reid-McConnell deal last night. “However, our country faces a problem bigger than any deadline: a $17 trillion debt. I am disappointed that Democrats would not compromise to avoid the looming debt debacle.”
It was a constant refrain of the small-government standard bearer in the upper chamber: “I think it is personally not a good idea to shut down government,” Paul said on the night of Cruz’s speech. “None of us likes the government being closed. I didn’t want to be here in the beginning,” he said on Sunday. “…I was against shutting down, and it is a failure of conversation to be in a shutdown.”
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.): The House Budget Committee chairman was branded a rising star on the right when he introduced his Path to Prosperity budget blueprint well before being picked by Mitt Romney for the presidential ticket. Ryan’s package featured healthcare law changes, including repealing the individual mandate, and entitlement reform including Medicare vouchers. Ryan wore the vilification of his plan as a badge of honor as he warned of the cataclysmic consequences of national debt spiraling out of control.