Six years into the Obama presidency, one of the things we’ve learned about the current state of play in Washington is that if there’s something you don’t want the Republicans in Congress to do, there’s a simple and effective strategy you can follow: Convince them that it’s what the president wants.
Once Obama embraced it, the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act morphed from an idea developed at a right-wing think tank and implemented at the state level by an eventual Republican presidential candidate to an unconscionable assault on individual rights. The cap-and-trade approach to reducing pollution was explicitly endorsed by every Republican president since Ronald Reagan until Obama endorsed it, at which point it became a socialist plot to ruin the economy.
Now, Republican leaders appear to have decided that they might be able to use their party’s antipathy toward Obama’s agenda to help curb some of their more extreme members’ tendency to champion self-destructive policies.
Case in point: the threats to shut down the government if, as promised, the president issues an executive order temporarily halting deportations of millions of illegal immigrants and issuing temporary work permits to some of them.
Some Republicans have raised the possibility of refusing to pass a continuing resolution funding the government after mid-December as a means of making the president withdraw such an action. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to take the possibility of a government shutdown off the table.
On Sunday, though, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the Republican deputy whip in the House, warned his colleagues that shutting down the government is exactly what President Obama wants them to do.
Two days before, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) used a similar metaphor, according to the Associated Press. “Shutting the government down would only serve the president's interests and we shouldn't take the bait,” he said.
The Washington Post said staffers for Senate Majority Leader-elect Mitch McConnell (R-KY) late last week were distributing a memo to the more conservative members of the party, arguing that the last government shutdown had badly hurt the GOP brand.
On Fox News Sunday, the network’s senior political analyst Brit Hume fretted about the consequences of tying a government shutdown to protest of the president’s expected executive action. “It’s a total blunder to try that, because if the president were to veto the bill, a bill that would keep the government going, and there was a shutdown, it would matter – it never has – what the proximate cause of the shutdown was. It is an iron rule in Washington, exemplified many times, that if the government shuts down, the Republicans get the blame. Not some of the blame. Not most of the blame. All of the blame.”
To some extent, the concerted effort to blunt talk of a possible shutdown seems to be working. On Sunday, multiple Republican lawmakers appeared on talk shows and said they weren’t interested in shutting down the government over an immigration fight.
“Republicans are looking at different options of how best to respond,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on Fox. “Shutting the government down doesn’t solve the problem.”
Rep. Tom Cotton, the Tea Party conservative recently elected to the Senate in Arkansas, was equally adamant. “I don’t think anyone wants to shut down the government because that doesn’t solve the problem.” His fellow senator-elect, Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), also said he is not interested in pursuing a government shutdown.
Even Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, one of the president’s most vocal detractors and a strong Tea Party conservative, was dismissive of shutdown rumors. “We’re not heading into a government shutdown,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
“Congress is going to stand up to the president,” he promised. However, he left it unclear what the response would be to an executive order on immigration. “Exactly what we do may depend on what he does and how he does it.”
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