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.
Then Ryan went on the road as the Republican candidate for vice president, and his Path to Prosperity was used as a campaign talking point by Democrats but faded into the background as coverage focused on Romney’s 47 percent remark and tenure as Massachusetts governor. Obama was re-elected and Ryan quietly returned to the Budget Committee.
And he pretty much tamped down speculation of his future political ambitions, particularly after the Romney ticket didn’t carry his home state. That is until an über-critical budget conference dropped in his lap.
Now all eyes are on Ryan again as he voted against the Reid-McConnell agreement to end the shutdown yet began the morning in crucial discussions with Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) at an amicable, earnest breakfast meeting. Here, Ryan has the golden opportunity to burnish his future prospects as a uniter with conservative bonafides.
“We haven’t had a budget conference since 2009. And so we think it’s high time that we start talking together to reconcile our differences,” Ryan said at Murray’s side this morning. “And it’s premature to get into exactly how we’re gonna do that, because we’re just beginning these conversations.”
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and David Vitter (R-La.): The former is branded a “RINO” by many on the right while the latter is considered conservative by any stretch. What the two senators have in common is how they’ve jumped on vulnerable elements of Obamacare while some of their colleagues were pushing for a wholesale defunding that wasn’t going to get the votes.
Alexander, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, seized on the technical problems and security fears on Healthcare.gov to launch an investigation into the rollout of the exchanges and determine what legislation could actually be tailored to target the program’s weaknesses.
“I’ve been warning that a train wreck is coming with this law, but the truth is that no train wreck has ever had this many warning signs,” Alexander said. “The avalanche of last-minute delays should make every American anxious about the quality of the health care they’ll be able to purchase in October and the security of the information they’ll have to provide—proving again that this law must be repealed so that we can pass step-by-step reforms that transform the health care delivery system by putting patients in charge, giving them more choices, and reducing the cost of health care so that more people can afford it.”
Vitter’s focus, an amendment to require that all members of Congress, the president, vice president, and all political appointees in the administration must purchase their health insurance through the Obamacare exchange without the help of taxpayer-funded subsidies, was part of a House package until nearly the end.
“Self-dealing special treatment to avoid the consequences of a law that Congress itself passed is precisely why the American people do not trust Washington,” Vitter wrote.
Neither senator is a candidate for higher office, though Alexander once was, but both are setting an example on exploiting the flaws in Obamacare when the shutdown focus has been on wholesale defund and repeal.
The Governors: See those guys waiting in the wings for a potential shot at 2016? See how much they artfully dodged the drama of the legislative body with a 13 percent approval rating while highlighting how skillfully they run their states?
“Reform – not austerity – is the key to balancing a budget. We did it Wisconsin. Other states did too. We can do it in DC,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tweeted on Oct. 1 before promptly turning the focus back to his home state.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has already lambasted the GOP as being “the stupid party,” said a week into the shutdown that he didn’t want to engage in Republican “fratricide.”
“We’ve got 30 Republican governors doing a great job across the state capitals across the country. The important discussions aren’t happening in D.C.,” Jindal said on CNN. As the shutdown ended, he announced the formation of a nonprofit, America Next, to help the party “play offense in the war of ideas.”
“A rebellion is brewing outside the Washington Beltway,” Jindal told Politico. “The American people know that the policies coming out of Washington are leading us to a dead end.”
“Americans demand we do more than detail the awful things the Obama Admin. has done and all the failings of The Left,” Jindal tweeted today. “America Next will promote a vision of what conservative policies can accomplish when put into practice.”
And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who leads his Democratic challenger by 26.5 points in the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, met with Republican lawmakers behind close doors in Washington last week when he visited to mark the end of the term of his appointee, Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-N.J.). “You know, I don’t think it’s ever good to keep the government closed when your job is to run the government,” he said after his meetings.
“Both parties made a mess of DC. We should haul all their rear ends up to NJ to see how bipartisanship works,” Christie tweeted last night, linking to his video at Rutgers decrying partisan bickering in Washington.
The Republican Governors Association is gleefully highlighting its enviable position out of the fray with an American Comeback initiative.
“We are not going to allow the antics in Washington to damage or destroy what we stand for,” RGA Chairman Jindal said. “The media are focused on Republican infighting — they want to pit the ‘establishment’ versus the ‘grassroots.’ Republican governors are showing that when you turn conservative principles into real policies, they work.”