Excoriating an anonymous White House official's claim of indifference to the length of the shutdown, Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Friday, "This isn't some damn game!" But his answers on how the situation ends seemed mostly like steps backward.
Boehner's frustration is to be expected. As we noted earlier, he's advocating for a caucus that appears to have little motivation to quickly resolve the shutdown and trying to negotiate with an opposition that doesn't think a negotiation is warranted. So he understandably seized on a Wall Street Journal quote, in which a "senior administration official" is quoted, "'We are winning...It doesn't really matter to us' how long the shutdown lasts 'because what matters is the end result.'"
I was at the White House the other night and listening to the president some 20 times explain to me why he wasn't going to negotiate. Sat there and listened to the majority leader in the United States Senate say he's not going to talk until we surrender. Then this morning, I get the Wall Street Journal out and it says we don't care how long this lasts because we're winning. This isn't some damn game! The American people don't want their government shut down and neither do I. All we're asking for is to sit down and have a discussion — reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare.
(For what it's worth, the White House's press secretary quickly disavowed the Journal's quote.)
Boehner's mention of the catalyst for the shutdown — the Republican attempt to curtail Obamacare — was a return to a topic that has largely been absent over the past few days. When Majority Leader Eric Cantor got up to speak after Boehner, he led off by criticizing the launch of the Obamacare insurance exchanges, quickly then transitioning into the Republicans' on-going plan to reinstate funding for parts of the government one at a time. (The president has again threatened to veto those piecemeal resolutions: "If the President were presented with H.J. Res. 75, H.J. Res. 76, H.J. Res. 77, H.J. Res. 78, H.J. Res. 79, H.J. Res. 80, H.J. Res. 82, H.J. Res. 83, H.J. Res. 84, and H.J. Res. 85, he would veto the bills.")
Cantor was followed by Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who also looped Obamacare back into the priority set. "We continue to hear from the president that the way out of this shutdown is to basically give him everything he wants," she said. "He wants the easy way out without addressing the debt crisis, without addressing a stagnant economy, without the addressing an unaffordable health care law." This is something of a misrepresentation; President Obama has expressed willingness to negotiate on those first two points once the government is reopened and the debt ceiling is raised.
The press conference followed a meeting of the House Republican caucus that MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin suggests wasn't entirely positive.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, normally chatty and friendly, is grim out of meeting. So are most Reps. emerging first. Not sure what happened in there— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) October 4, 2013
Multiple Reps say debt limit only mentioned briefly in meeting, no talk of either big "grand bargain" or NYT on Boehner backing off default— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) October 4, 2013
That latter point reinforces that the press conference indicated a step backward. Questioned by reporters, Boehner didn't acknowledge reports that he'd work with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, one of the first signs the public had been offered that some agreement might be worked out. Instead, Boehner returned to his reinspired affection for stopping the Obama's healthcare law. "Our goal here wasn't to shut down the government," he said. "Our goal here was to bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare."
Any idea that Republicans may be looking for a way to escape the shutdown — and their declining poll numbers in the face of it — by softening their most untenable position isn't happening publicly.