This is not how conservative Republicans were expecting the government shutdown to play out. A Wall Street Journal poll of public opinion on the shutdown showed disastrous results for the GOP, and National Review's Jonathan Strong says it "is putting a new sense of fear into the hearts of House Republicans." A meeting between House Republicans and President Obama ended Thursday evening with no deal to open the government or raise the debt ceiling, and now Republican leaders "will be keep pushing for a small Obamacare-related concession, but that they know they may not be able to win one, especially as the debt-ceiling deadline nears," Strong reports, and "without something in it related to Obamacare [John Boehner and his allies] would face the wrath of the right flank of the conference." The House Speaker will have to do a great deal of expectations management, as National Review's Robert Costa tweeted Thursday, "The hard thing for leadership, esp during open mic now, is that a large # of Rs are simply unhappy w/ anything that's not a BIG WIN."
It wasn't just the Michele Bachmann or Ted Cruz types who believed they could extract significant concessions from Obama over the debt limit, that he would capitulate on Obamacare. Yes, it was conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman who infamously said, "We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is." But that Obama would cave on something was a pretty mainstream idea. In a House Rules Committee hearing in late September, appropriations committee chair Hal Rogers openly mocked the idea that Obama wouldn't agree to an amendment repealing part of Obamacare that was attached to a government funding bill. As CNS News reported:
Rogers: "You say the president has threatened to veto the bill?"
Democrat Rep. Jim McGovern: "No, he hasn’t threatened. He said he absolutely will veto."
Rogers: "He’s drawn a red line has he?"
At this point, the small hearing room—which was largely filled with committee members, other members of Congress who had come to testify and congressional staff—burst into laughter. (GIF of Rogers laughing at his own joke above.)
Around the same time, Strong asked asked Rep. Paul Ryan if he believed Obama's vow that he wouldn't negotiate over the debt ceiling. "His reaction? You’ve got to be kidding me," Strong wrote. Ryan said, "Oh, nobody believes that." Ryan is now being promoted as the serious negotiator who will deliver conservative votes on a compromise with Obama. Ryan's op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday did not mention Obamacare, which The New York Times reports on Friday gives the plan "credibility" to Democrats. Republican Rep. Tom Cole told the Times that Ryan's new prominence in negotiations "quite frankly is a sign to Democrats that we’re awfully serious about this."
Over the 11 days of the shutdown, Republicans have altered their demands, from a defunding of Obamacare, to a year's delay in the law, to a repeal of some parts of the law, to some sort of concession on federal spending. "There is a sense, even among the conservatives this AM, that to get any sort of major budg reform/concession, they prob need to do [debt limit] and [a continuing resolution to fund the government]," Costa tweeted Friday morning.
"Republicans are working out the terms of their surrender," ABC News' Jonathan Karl writes. "On substance, it is Republicans who are giving in, although the president is now doing something he said he would not do: negotiate while the government is shutdown and there is a threat of default." In a press conference on Thursday, Republicans presented this as itself a victory for the party. "I'm pleased today that we have had an invitation from the White House to actually begin to" talk, Majority Leader Eric Cantor said. According to Politico, in those talks, Obama repeatedly asked House Republicans "what’s it going to take to" open the government. Boehner "described the Republicans’ process as being two steps: passing the debt ceiling bill, and then opening a broad budget conference before the government can be reopened." Republicans, the National Review reports, think their "best case scenario" is to repeal Obamacare's medical device tax, something Obama rejected when it was attached to a government funding bill, to Republicans' great surprise. According to ABC, Obama said he could give them something to open the government, but "only something that he would normally offer through the course of regular budget negotiations." In other words: not Obamacare.