By Justin Sink
Republicans on Friday seized on an unnamed senior administration official’s comment that “it doesn't really matter to us” how long the government shutdown lasts, “because what matters is the end result.”
The comments underscored that while the administration believes it has the upper hand in the shutdown entering its fourth day, Republicans are eager to turn the tide with public opinion seemingly stacked against them.
Republican offices circulated the comment, published in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, with a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) incredulously asking, “It doesn’t matter?” The spokesman in a separate email listed "things that don't 'matter' to the White House," including veterans' benefits, food inspection and scientific research all halted during the shutdown.
"This isn't some damn game," Boehner said. "The American people don't want their government shut down, and neither do I. All we're asking for is to sit down and talk to each other like the American people expect us to."
Republicans have been grasping for something to turn around negative poll numbers on the shutdown.
A survey released by Fox News Thursday showed the president's favorability numbers ticking up, Boehner's approval declining, and a majority supporting keeping ObamaCare in place. More Americans blamed Republicans more than Democrats for the shutdown, by a 42 percent to 32 percent margin.
"We utterly disavow idea [the White House] doesn't care when it ends. [The] House should act now, [with] no strings attached," he said.
Other Democrats downplayed the "winning" comment by noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had used similar terminology when caught on a hot mic on Thursday.
"I know we don't want to be here, but we're gonna win this, I think," Paul said.
The GOP has taken a few steps to try to get an upper hand in the shutdown fight.
On the floor, Republicans have pushed measures funding targeted parts of the government, such as the national parks. The idea is to make Democrats look like they are keeping the parks and other parts of the government closed.
Tea Party lawmakers flooded the National Mall to voice support for veterans who broke through barriers to visit the World War II Memorial.
On Thursday, Republicans repeatedly hammered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) after he brusquely responded to a question over why Democrats were blocking legislation that would have reopened clinical studies to cancer patients.
Still, the White House remains confident they are winning.
“There will be no negotiations over this,” President Obama said in remarks Thursday. “You don't get to demand some ransom in exchange for keeping the government running. You don't get to demand ransom in exchange for keeping the economy running. You don't get to demand ransom for doing your most basic job.”
Senior Obama officials told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent that while they know the fallout from the fight over the debt ceiling could easily blow back on the president, they think Republicans are in significantly more danger.
The White House also believes that making concessions to end the shutdown would only lead Republicans to make more demands on the debt ceiling. Negotiating over the debt ceiling could fundamentally diminish the power of the presidency while setting a dangerous precedent, the White House believes.
“Their current position is to hold the American economy and the American people hostage in exchange for their ideological demands,” Carney said Thursday.
— This post was updated at 11:57 a.m.