Politico's "Anatomy of a Shutdown" has a boatload of gossipy, behind-the-scene nuggets from the two-week government shutdown, but one in particular stands out as a fitting symbol of Washington's current political dysfunction.
According to the story published on Friday morning (as reported by the team John Bresnahan, Manu Raju, Jake Sherman, and Carrie Budoff Brown), the shutdown was really two contests in one. The first was between Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, two old Senate rivals who were tasked with bringing the deal together, despite barely being on speaking terms. The other was between House Speaker John Boehner and the members of his own party, who battled against the Speaker's plan that might have avoided an embarrassing political defeat. In the end, he finally brought them (some of them) around and struck a deal, but not without cost.
At one point, shortly after the shutdown began, Barack Obama pulled Boehner aside at a White House meeting and asked, “John, what happened?”
“I got overrun, that’s what happened,” Boehner said.
Standing in between both the House and Senate battles, was Ted Cruz, the freshman Senator from Texas who led the fight to defund Obamacare. Though he was acting almost entirely on his own in the Senate (with an assist from Utah's Mike Lee), he did have a lot of allies in the House of Representatives; the same group resisting Boehner's efforts to put an end to things.
Cruz actions began to infuriate his Republican Senate colleagues, who understood that defunding the Affordable Care Act was an impossible dream. Senator Kelly Ayotte reportedly dressed him down for his failed strategy, and another GOP Senator allegedly told Cruz to his face, "The president gets up every day and reads the newspaper and thanks God that Ted Cruz is in the United States Senate."
But the incident that really shows Cruz's failure to grasp the situation he had created for himself and his party, also reveals the basic problem that arises when you let a relative political neophyte lead the charge on the biggest issues of the day. It seems that Cruz doesn't even fully understand the rules of his government.
According to Politico's account:
At one point, Cruz told GOP senators that they should force votes on bills to fund individual agencies and programs, like on veterans issues.
But McConnell bluntly told Cruz that Republicans had no procedural way of doing that. In fact, he asked Laura Dove, McConnell’s chief floor expert, to explain to Cruz how Republicans were prohibited from taking such a parliamentary tactic.
This is a pretty straightforward rebuttal to anyone who believes that the solution to Washington gridlock is term limits for Congress members. Cruz, who held a 21-hour non-filibuster filibuster that didn't actually halt or even delay a key procedural vote, apparently didn't know one of the most basic rules of parliamentary procedure. (The minority party doesn't get to schedule its own votes.)
That's totally understandable for a guy who has only been on the job since January. But that's why you need the Mitch McConnells of the world — or the Chuck Schumers and Lamar Alexanders, two long-time Senators and friends who helped broker the Senate deal — to be the real leaders, and teach the new guys how things work. That kind of inexperience may make for great television, but it doesn't usually solve real problems. There's a lot more to knowing how things really work in government than just scheduling votes.