A growing number of conservative voices — most of them outside of government — are calling for Republicans in Congress to refuse to fund the government until Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates are scrapped.
If there were going to be a shutdown, the timing couldn’t be better. The government will begin to run out of money this weekend, necessitating another continuing resolution to fund the government into 2022. And before the end of the month, the nation’s debt limit will have been reached, forcing the government not to spend more than it takes in and to default on at least part of its debt.
The calls are mostly coming from GOP congressional candidates, although several high-profile conservatives in the House are also calling for a shutdown.
“Between now and Christmas, the debt limit will be reached and all appropriations for federal spending will expire,” Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, tweeted. “It takes 60 votes in the Senate to fund Biden’s agenda which includes FIVE different vaccine mandates. There are only 50 Democrats in the Senate.”
Rep. Chip Roy followed Massie’s declaration with a more explicit challenge for House and Senate Republicans, although with the GOP a minority in both chambers of Congress, only Senate Republicans are positioned to pull the trigger on a government shutdown. “Will they fund government that forces vax mandates … Or will they fight?” the Texas Republican tweeted. “The choice will draw lines for 2022.”
What would be the advantage of shutting down the government over vaccine mandates? Well, for one thing, it would prove that House and Senate Republicans have some balls after all, right? And that’s really, really important — more important than funding the military and some other stuff the government does.
But aside from shutting down the government and getting a lot of people upset at Republicans because they might not think the mandates are worth blowing up government funding over, what else would a shutdown accomplish?
In essence, those calling for a shutdown are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Biden’s mandate is losing in the courts and it’s losing popularity fast. He’s also failed spectacularly to convince more than a slight majority that the mandates are necessary.
Is this really the hill the right wants to die on? Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance thinks so. “Instead of giving [Democrats] a bipartisan flag to wave, we should shut down the government until the vaccine mandate ends,” he said at a recent candidate’s forum.
Of course, channeling the desires of the Republican base is a win-win for Vance in the crowded and competitive Ohio GOP Senate primary: Grassroots conservatives will give him credit for proposing the fight, and anything that goes wrong politically if Republican leaders follow his advice will redound not to Vance and candidates like him but to incumbent GOP lawmakers in Washington.
If the past is a prologue, that would be the most likely outcome. In 1995-1996, a majority-Republican Congress tried it against President Bill Clinton — and lost. In 2013, a majority-Republican House tried it against President Barack Obama — and lost. In 2018, a minority caucus of Senate Democrats tried it against former President Donald Trump — and lost. But GOP strategists from the party’s Trump wing still believe Senate Republicans would benefit from giving it a try.
Using government shutdowns as a political weapon is always more popular among those who aren’t responsible for living with the consequences of them. With the mandate in serious legal jeopardy, a shutdown may not even be necessary to accomplish the goal of ending Biden’s vaccine mandates.
Republican strategists think that prudence has a better chance of succeeding.
Nothing productive can come, they insist, from engaging in a politically damaging fight for the sake of catharsis. “It’s a clever gimmick but unlikely to change the minds of Democrats who run Washington,” said a Republican strategist who advises GOP senators.
“Do it because the base will feel better if we do” is hardly an argument for intelligent governance.