Another government shutdown isn’t going to happen next month — at least if you ask Republican leaders.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who’s facing a tough reelection challenge this fall, said turning the lights out in Washington is a “failed policy.”
And Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team are ruling out a repeat of October, when Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led a conservative rebellion and forced the government to close for two weeks in a bid to defund ObamaCare.
That proved to be a political disaster for congressional Republicans, who, this fall, want to avoid a massive midterm distraction as they try to take back control of the Senate and expand their majority in the House.
“We’re not going to shoot ourselves in the foot and jeopardize our chances of winning the Senate and gaining more seats in the House,” a senior GOP aide said Thursday. The shutdown chatter from some conservatives “clearly isn’t helpful, but I’m not anticipating there will be a groundswell of similar sentiment from a large chunk of our conference.”
Funding to keep the government open runs out on Sept. 30, and conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) warned this week that “all bets are off” on passing a stopgap funding bill, if Obama unilaterally takes action to make it easier for millions of illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a prospective 2016 presidential hopeful who stood with Cruz, said he also expects Republicans will try to attach a rider to the temporary spending bill to combat Obama’s executive action.
The White House has indicated that Obama will make an announcement by the end of the summer. Immigration reform advocates have pushed Obama to turn to executive action in the absence of a comprehensive overhaul.
“In our view, the president really doesn't have a choice but to act and to do what he can within his legal authority,” said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza.
Even some staunch conservatives say that attaching an immigration-related rider to a stopgap spending bill and potentially threatening a government shutdown would backfire.
“I would love to attach a rider to our funding bill that reverses Barack Obama's lawless actions on any number of fronts but only if the Senate and the White House agreed to it. And they won't, so it's a futile strategy,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a vocal opponent of comprehensive immigration reform.
Brooks said it was more important for Republicans to make sure they perform well in the November elections.
“I very much appreciate Steve King's desire to make Barack Obama obey the law. But ultimately, the only way to hold a lawless president accountable is for voters to change the Senate and ultimately change the White House,” the Alabama Republican said in an interview. “I'm going to do everything in my power to prevent a government shutdown, regardless of whether Barack Obama violates yet another law.”
Matt Salmon, another conservative Republican who hails from the border state of Arizona, said most of the shutdown and impeachment talk is coming from Obama himself “because his numbers are in the toilet.”
“I don’t believe either of those things are in the cards,” Salmon told The Hill on Thursday. “He hopes and prays one of those things happen because they are the only thing that will revive his numbers and his party’s numbers.”
Still, King and Cruz have demonstrated they can get what they want on the immigration issue. Last month, King helped engineer a revamped bill providing funds to address the surge of child migrants crossing the border that won enough support from the House GOP conference. The revised plan allotted extra funds for the National Guard and allowed a separate vote to limit the 2012 Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program.
Before King and allies like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) became involved, House Republicans were unable to pass a border funding bill on their own.
Bachmann, who cheered last year’s shutdown, conceded that there’s no consensus among Republicans on how to respond to Obama’s expected executive action on immigration. But she warned “nothing’s off the table at this point.”
“There will be a sharp pushback. … It is an absolute falsehood by the president to try to pretend he was forced to do this,” Bachmann said in a phone interview on Thursday.
“I would call on the president to refrain from doing this,” she added. “We don’t want to see a disruption in service to anyone. We don’t want to see a disruption in service for veterans, for seniors.”
Democrats are almost gleeful at the possibility of another shutdown showdown, talking on cable TV and blasting out press releases about how Republicans once again want to shutter the government.
“Shutdowns that cost our economy billions of dollars benefit no one,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wrote in a fundraising email to supporters on Thursday. “These extreme Tea Party members would rather shut down the government than work with Democrats to get things done.”
But the renewed shutdown chatter is creating big headaches for GOP leaders, particularly McConnell, who is locked in a tight race with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.
If he becomes majority leader, McConnell recently said he would push to attach riders on spending bills to curb Obama’s policies on healthcare, the environment and other matters, which Democrats seized on as evidence a GOP Senate would create another standoff. But pressed on whether he supported shutting down the government either this year or in the new Congress, McConnell replied: “Of course not.”
“I’m the guy that’s gotten us out of shutdowns that some of our members have pushed us into in the past. That’s a failed policy,” he told CNN’s Dana Bash. “It does not mean you should send the president a total blank check with no restrictions at all on how the money is spent.”