The defiant positioning by conservatives puts Boehner in a difficult situation: He wants to pass another CR that wins the support of a majority of his conference, but there’s nothing in his arsenal that is guaranteed heavy GOP support. His hope of getting 218 Republicans behind a revised CR before a shutdown occurs is dimming by the hour. And if he can’t broker a deal by late Monday, a shutdown will be unavoidable.
Large numbers of House Republicans, while not exactly rooting for a shutdown, certainly feel comfortable with the idea of stopping Obamacare at all costs. “I feel like it’s my duty as a congressman to mitigate the damage that Obamacare is doing to the country,” says Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas. “I’m going to do what my heart tells me is the right thing to do. And I think my constituents in South Texas are behind me.”
Other House conservatives concur and seem ready to cast Senate majority leader Harry Reid as the villain. “I think the ball will firmly be in Harry Reid’s court,” says Michael Burgess of Texas. “If he wants to shut it down, that’s his business.” Adds Tom Cotton of Arkansas: “If Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats would stop being so stubborn, he’d recognize that the president has already delayed the mandate on businesses.”
The leadership, however, is worried about the likely public takeaway from any shutdown: Leaders fear that national press would harp on Republicans’ supposed intransigence rather than the Senate’s responsibility. Boehner’s contingent seems almost resigned to the mutual suspicion between the leadership and a group of about 30 conservative members. Sources say distrust is as high as it’s been since Republicans won the House in 2010, and they predict that a sizable bloc would obstruct any watered-down plan.
That aura of Republican infighting will create an interesting dynamic if Tuesday morning comes without an accord. While Boehner and other leaders will be defending the GOP’s position in front of the cameras, there may be a subtle effort to use the episode — and what many expect to be its disastrous political results — as a means of discrediting the hardliners who give the speaker headaches. Conservatives, meanwhile, will try to show that the tactic is helping focus public attention on Obamacare.
“It may have to shut down,” says a veteran House Republican, when asked about how the drama will unfold. “Until people feel the political pain, I doubt we can come together on anything. Boehner knows that, probably more than anyone.”
— Robert Costa is National Review’s Washington editor. Jonathan Strong is a political reporter for National Review.