House Republicans Throw In the Towel

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call, via Getty ,Douglas Graham

“We’ll live to fight another day” was the message that Speaker John Boehner shared with House Republicans this afternoon.

After receiving a spontaneous standing ovation when stepping to the microphone in a meeting to discuss the Reid-McConnell deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, Boehner told members to “go out and vote for [the deal]” and said all of leadership would be voting together in favor of it. Although only members of the leadership spoke, there still was a note of defiance in the room as Majority Leader Eric Cantor reminded the room that everyone in it had campaigned against Obamacare.

Both moderates and Tea Partiers took very different lessons from the conflict that led to a 16-day government shutdown. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who led the much ballyhooed moderate revolt that petered out before the shutdown, savaged Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). King said Cruz was the mastermind of the strategy eventually adopted by the GOP and had gotten nothing out of the shutdown, save “probably some campaign contributions.” In the New York congressman’s opinion, the fight was always hopeless; he condemned the opinions of those who thought Republicans simply needed to stick together more closely as "baloney." When asked if he thought conservatives in the House caucus had learned a lesson from this, all King said was “hope springs eternal.”

In contrast, Rep. Tom Massie (R-KY), a Tea Party conservative closely aligned with Sen. Rand Paul and the party’s libertarian wing, blamed Obama’s intransigence for the shutdown. Massie believed that Boehner was “taken off guard by how anxious Obama was to get into a shutdown...He probably thought at the last minute someone would be reasonable and Obama was not reasonable.” Instead, Massie thought that Boehner should have held firm through the shutdown and that the GOP’s negotiating strategy of “talking before the other party answers” was a losing one.

Massie, who will vote against the deal, thought Republicans “capitulated on this one,” hurting the party’s credibility. “We blinked,” the Kentucky congressman said. He bemoaned the fact that unlike the proposal last night, this didn’t even have “a bright shiny object” for conservatives to cling to.

Other Republicans were more optimstic that they could defund Obamacare. The chair of the Republican Study Committee, Steve Scalise (R-LA) thought it was still “entirely possible” even with a Democrat in the White House. This hope was shared by Rep John Fleming (R-LA) who said “the biggest threat to America today is not shutdowns, it’s Obamacare.” He said that it was clear that it would be a disaster and cited liberal pundit Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, who he claimed shared his views.

Boehner’s position as speaker, however, seemed safe, despite rumors that it might be under threat. Almost every congressman outside the room felt confident that Boehner was secure in his job. “I think he’s going to be OK,” said Rep Jack Kingston (R-GA). The only possible exception was Rep. Steve King (R-IA). The conservative Iowa congressman told reporters that he thought the showdown was a good thing because “you don’t identify your allies unless you have a fight.” When he asked if Boehner was such an ally, King dodged the question, saying, “Throughout a lot of this process the speaker has stood strong and we have to watch this play out the rest of the way.”

Going forward, Republicans are hoping they can use the continuation of sequestration as leverage in future budget showdowns. After all, they will have the advantage there. As Kingston pointed out, “the Senate does not like sequestration and to quote a number of Democrats recently, sequestration is law of the land.” But, with a budget conference committee given almost two months to reach an accord and then another month before the next possible shutdown, there’s still a lot of time for Republicans to figure out a new strategy.