Day four of the government shutdown has dawned, with a resolution apparently no closer than it was on day one. If there's anything that can jostle House Republicans to action on a funding resolution, it hasn't appeared yet. And it's not clear what it might possibly be.
There are two possible endings for the shutdown. The first is that Democrats acquiesce to some sort of concessions linked to a funding bill, as we outlined on Thursday. The second is that a majority of House Republicans decide to acquiesce to passage of an unamended funding bill. So far, the only sign of movement toward one of those resolutions is among the Republicans, 20-or-so of whom have signaled willingness to pass such a motion. While that suggests that a majority of the House in total now supports such a bill (including the 200 Democrats, who are probably more unified on the idea than House Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggests), Speaker John Boehner won't bring the measure to the floor. And, so far, Boehner's under little pressure to do so, for a variety of reasons.
One reason is that many Republicans still think everything's going smoothly. The New York Times reports on a confrontation between Senate Republicans and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during a lunch on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Cruz, of course, is the avowed architect of the Republicans' current predicament, having stepped outside of the party to advocate for a shutdown that, if nothing else, helped significantly raise his pre-2016 profile. His attacks on his peers have not helped him gain presidential primary votes in the Capitol, though. "[Sen. Kelly] Ayotte asked Mr. Cruz to disavow the group’s effort and demanded he explain his strategy," The Times reports on the lunch. "When he did not, several other senators — including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Coats and even Mitch McConnell, the minority leader — joined in the criticism of Mr. Cruz." The Times drily adds, "Despite the uproar, Mr. Cruz did not offer a plan for how his party could prevail in the shutdown battle and suggested his colleagues were defeatists."
That attitude — everything is going fine, don't worry — was mirrored in a conversation between McConnell and his colleagues Rand Paul of Kentucky captured by a local news station. "I think if we keep saying: 'We wanted to defund it, we fought for that, now we're going to compromise on this?'," Paul says, "I know we don't want to be here, but we're gonna win this, I think."
Cruz and Paul both think they're going to win in part because of who they represent. At the Daily Beast, Jamelle Bouie points out that focus groups of Republican voters indicate that they "think Obama has 'imposed' his agenda, and they want their leaders to do everything they can to stop him." Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker pointed out that the conservatives driving the shutdown represent very Republican (and consistently Republican) districts. Much of America may think, say, Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas is a bit of an extremist, but his district has elected him five times.
Which means that the negative effects of the shutdown, even when felt by constituents, are softened by the idea that the members of Congress are fighting the good fight. And Republicans have been deliberate about shifting the blame for those things that threaten to frustrate their constituencies. The series of small funding bills — passing a measure to fund veterans' services or to re-open national parks — serves to put the Senate Democrats in the difficult position of saying no. But more immediately it allows Republicans who might be on the hot seat to say to their districts (and the veterans and outdoors enthusiasts therein), hey, we tried, blame the Democrats. (See Salon's Brian Beutler for a fuller explanation of this tactic.)
At The Washington Post, Brad Plumer points out that the rest of the House's constituents won't feel much burden over the short term, either. "During the 1995-'96 shutdown," Plumer writes, "polls found that just 12 percent of respondents said they were personally inconvenienced, with only 4 to 6 percent saying it was a major inconvenience." If constituents aren't complaining — and if those whose are calling and emailing and tweeting support the shutdown — why would House Republicans feel pressure to cave? Even the broader embarrassments of the shutdown, like the announcement that President Obama is canceling a trip to Asia, aren't likely to sway them. Yes, as The Wall Street Journal suggests, that "gives China an edge" in our attempts to increase influence in the region, but that's mostly an embarrassment to Obama, not to any of the 435 members of the House of Representatives.
This is why Obama's speech Thursday focused on two things: highlighting the effects on business of a shutdown (attempting to get Americans to care) and putting pressure on John Boehner to allow a floor vote. Frustration with Boehner's intransigence over allowing a vote on an unamended funding bill is becoming more and more obvious. Politico reports one outburst from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. (We've noted their disputes before.)
“He’s a coward,” Reid angrily said, referring to Boehner’s private push for federal health care contributions for lawmakers and their staff. Boehner later backed legislation to end those subsidies in order to win points with House GOP conservatives. “He’s a coward!” Reid exclaimed.
"Reid and [House Minority Leader Nancy] Pelosi both think Boehner is more concerned about saving his own neck as speaker than doing the right thing for the country," Politico continues. Boehner, like each elected representative, serves at the pleasure of his constituents — here, the members of the House Republican caucus. They, for the reasons articulated above, are content with the current path. And, in fact, still feel like this is their big moment to get something, anything as a concession from the White House in order to end the stalemate.
As for the White House, the Journal has a quote that encapsulates its attitude:
Said a senior administration official: "We are winning...It doesn't really matter to us" how long the shutdown lasts "because what matters is the end result."
In other words: Hope you're enjoying the shutdown, because it doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.