The liberal opinion journal The New Republic is warning its ideologically simpatico readers on Wednesday, many of whom are influential political commentators themselves, that they are making a big mistake.
“As we approach the midterms, Democrats are naturally trying to frighten Americans into believing that the GOP could shut down the government again. What isn’t natural is that the media is helping them do it,” TNR’s Danny Vinik wrote.
Well, that’s certainly debatable. But let’s take this assertion at face value for the moment. Down what primrose path are these credulous journalists being led, you ask?
Just weeks after the White House earned scorn from the press after the administration’s fear mongering over a supposed secret plan to impeach Barack Obama was exposed as nothing more than a fundraising pitch, many in the press are buying into the notion that Republicans in Congress are eager to repeat disastrous government shutdown of 2013.
On Tuesday night, the Huffington Post published an article with the headline: “Marco Rubio Hints At A Government Shutdown Fight Over Immigration.” The problem is that Rubio, who was quoted from an interview with Breitbart, doesn’t come close to mentioning a government shutdown. Here’s what he said: “There will have to be some sort of a budget vote or a continuing resolution vote, so I assume there will be some sort of a vote on this. I’m interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue.” That’s not hinting at a government shutdown. It’s Rubio saying he wants to use the budget process to put pressure on the Democrats to vote on Obama’s controversial immigration policies.
Vinik warned further that Politico is falling into a similar trap by reading too deeply into a statement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who promised to push a Republican agenda as majority leader and force the president to veto those bills. Politico’s headline: “McConnell’s plan to shut down Obama.”
Vinik warns his colleagues that it is perfectly fair for Democrats and those who support that party’s agenda to remind voters of the unpopular shutdown. “But there is no excuse for the news media to inflate the quotes of Republican politicians to make it seem that they are threatening to shut down the government again,” he added.
Indeed, as The Atlantic’s Molly Ball reported on Wednesday, the GOP leadership is terrified of another shutdown and will do whatever they can to avoid a similar debacle. Moreover, she writes, “Democrats have ample incentive to stoke talk of a shutdown—or even to provoke one.”
The White House, demonstrating the same level of shame they displayed whey they hyped the notion that a vote in the House to impeach the president was imminent, dismissed Vinik’s warning. While they could no longer twist Rubio or McConnell’s comments to suit their needs, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was happy to provide them with the fodder to inflate the threat of a new shutdown beyond all logical proportion.
“If the president wields his pen and commits that unconstitutional act to legalize millions, I think that becomes something that is nearly political nuclear,” King told the Des Moines Register on Wednesday. “I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that.”
He noted that, if Obama attempts to create legal status for millions of illegal immigrants, “all bets are off.” The White House happily interpreted this threat to the CR to mean that Republicans intend to shut down the government again.
“The president is determined to act where House Republicans won’t, and there is strong support for that all across the country,” White House Press Sec. Josh Earnest said definitely on Wednesday. He noted that it “would be a real shame if Republicans were to engage in an effort to shut down the government.” A true shame, indeed. One which would virtually guarantee that Democrats would retain control of the Senate. What a bummer.
A few political reporters are cautiously, and not entirely without reason, taking the threat of a shutdown seriously:
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) August 27, 2014
The point, as always, is that GOP leaders have proven they can’t control the plot.
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) August 27, 2014
Steve King typically gets what he wants in the House on immigration, so I'd take his CR/shutdown idea seriously.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) August 27, 2014
And just like that we're contemplating another government shutdown.
— David Harrison (@d_harrison) August 27, 2014
Apparently no one remembers the last time liberal opinion journals warned frenetically of an impending government shutdown in June over the EPA’s new carbon emissions regulations. We all remember how the great government shutdown of the summer of 2014 went.
It certainly is not impossible that a fight over the CR brought about by a Hail Mary executive order on immigration could materialize in the fall, and there are a few members of Congress who saw their personal fortunes rise even as those of their party fell as a result of the shutdown (Ball notes that retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann called the 2013 shutdown one of the GOP’s great triumphs).
The majority of the GOP conference can, however, read a poll. They saw what the shutdown did to the party’s approval rating and electoral prospects, and they know that the only thing that saved them from a political disaster was the fact that the shutdown occurred in October of an off-year. The leadership is unlikely to allow a few rogue members (certainly fewer than the cabal that forced the shutdown in 2013) to set the agenda.
That is not going to stop the reporting class from treating a government shutdown as an imminent prospect. Don’t be surprised when a few breathless headlines about a forthcoming shutdown end up in Democratic fundraising pitches coming to an inbox near you.