Politics

The Blame Game Over the Shutdown Showdown

Congressional leaders start pointing fingers

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is hunting for votes to keep the government open. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

With less than 36 hours to avoid a shutdown of nonessential government services and no solution in sight, congressional leaders spent Thursday  offering their spin on who will be to blame if a deal cannot be struck.

Notably missing amid the rhetoric — as Republicans pointed to Democrats, while the minority said the majority is at fault — were predictions leaders had made in recent weeks that there would be no government shutdown.

President Donald Trump entered the Pentagon on Thursday for a national security meeting and predicted a government shutdown “could very well be.”

The commander in chief said Democrats were seeking to force a shutdown to “blunt” the success of the GOP tax overhaul, mixing messages with GOP leaders, who are trying to tie the stalemate to Democrats’ demands on immigration. Democrats, meanwhile, say it is Republicans’ intransigence on that issue and domestic spending that is to blame.

The state of play as the clock ticks down is that a four-week continuing resolution House Republicans have put together currently lacks the votes to pass in both chambers. GOP leaders have yet to signal they’re moving away from that plan.

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A provision funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for six years meant to sweeten the pot for Democrats has not helped, with House Minority Nancy Pelosi on Thursday equating it to Republicans giving them “a bowl of doggie doo, putting a cherry on top and calling it a chocolate sundae.”

Trump himself undermined GOP messaging when he tweeted that the CHIP reauthorization should not be part of the CR, before the White House issued a statement saying the president was totally on board with CHIP being part of the spending bill. 

Republicans have similarly dismissed provisions in the CR delaying enactment of certain taxes related to the 2010 health care low — meant to help secure their support — as window dressing.

No backup?

GOP leaders have yet to reveal any backup plan, with Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Thursday expressing confidence that the CR will pass the House.

“I have confidence we’ll pass this because I think members understand, ‘Why on earth would we want a government shutdown?’” the Wisconsin Republican said. “That is not in anyone’s interest.”

Shortly after Ryan’s remarks, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters that more than 22 Republicans remain opposed to the CR and that leadership will need to change it if they want to pass it given Democrats are not lending their votes.

Watch: Pelosi and Ryan Discuss Shutdown Possibility

Ryan did not directly answer a question about where he thinks the still elusive votes will come from in the House — Freedom Caucus members and defense hawks who’ve said they oppose the current plan or Democrats defying their leadership to help the GOP.

“We’re making really good progress with our members,” he said. “We’re having great conversations, and I feel our members are understanding the gravity of the situation. And I think our members do not want to reward using the military as a hostage.”

Meadows, meanwhile, suggested little progress but noted he was involved in discussions with leadership. He said the Freedom Caucus’ Plan A of full-year defense funding has been rejected and he doesn’t think their Plan B of defense anomalies is still in play.

“I’m sure we’re at Plan C, but I’m not ready to talk about it,” the North Carolina Republican said.

Predictive language

Leaders of both chambers insisted they did not want to close the government, but some used language suggesting that’s what is likely to happen.

Pelosi even used words that made it seem like the shutdown has already occurred.

“I think this is like one of the only times ever, but certainly in a long time, that there’s been a shutdown when one party has controlled the House, the Senate and the White House,” the California Democrat said.

Her present-tense description of a shutdown did not appear to be an accident, as she repeated it.

“Perhaps I’m not clear: This is the first time in recent memory that any party has dominated by having the majority in the House and the Senate and the president in the White House where there has been a government shutdown.”

Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn acknowledged that senators of both parties are opposed to the CR, and noted that if Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer instructs all Democrats to vote “no,” “Then the government is shutting down.”

Still, the Texas Republican said the majority was not making contingency plans, such as a one- or two-day stopgap.

Schumer has not been explicit about his instructions, but he said the CR the House has put together “doesn’t look good” and spoke generally about overwhelming Democratic opposition.

As for who was to blame for the impasse, Schumer pointed to President Donald Trump and his team as “agents of chaos,” saying the White House is “the one thing standing in our way.”

“It may just lead to a government shutdown that no one wants,” the New York Democrat predicted.

Projecting confidence

Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while trying to project confidence, both directed their preemptive blame at Democrats, saying they were trying to shut down the government over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation and is slated to end March 5.

“We can pass a noncontroversial, bipartisan bill to keep the government open, or Democrats can force a manufactured crisis,” McConnell said.

Ryan said “it is just unconscionable” that Democrats are threatening to shut down the government over immigration and quoted Schumer saying in 2013 when comprehensive immigration talks were underway, “We could say, ‘We’re shutting down the government until you pass immigration reform.’ It would be governmental chaos.”

“This strategy is governmental chaos,” the speaker said. “I could not agree more.”

Pelosi, while acknowledging that Democrats see protecting Dreamers as part of a budget agreement going forward, said the impasse over the CR is not about immigration.

“It’s not a shutdown over DACA. How many more times do I have to say we have issues in terms of the funding,” Pelosi said.

“Had there never been one Dreamer, we still have issues,” she said.

While Republicans are trying to “disguise” the CR as a children’s health insurance bill, it “undermines the systems that support CHIP,” Pelosi said.

“This isn’t about Dreamers,” she emphasized. “I want the Dreamers protected, but I don’t want a shutdown.”

John Bennett, Joe Williams, Jennifer Shutt, Mary Ellen McIntire and David Lerman contributed to this report.

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