Boehner: If Democrats want to shut down Homeland Security over Obama's amnesty, we won't stop them

Jazz applauded Boehner last night for stressing that it’s Democrats, not the Senate GOP, who are threatening to shut down DHS by blocking the House’s bill to fund the department while withholding funding for Obama’s immigration action. That message is being carried by all wings of the party right now: Boehner nemesis Ted Cruz made the same point at length in a press conference last week. Team Red is laying the groundwork to blame Team Blue when the money runs out on February 27th and the media starts assessing blame. It’s a total team effort.

Or … is it? There are two ways the GOP can spin a DHS shutdown. One: It’s no big deal. Only certain nonessential personnel in a single department will be affected. The NSA will still be listening to terrorists’ phone calls on February 28th. (If it’s no big deal, though, why use this as the key leverage in your bid to undo Obama’s amnesty?) Two: It’s a big deal and it’s the Democrats’ fault. You should choose the first spin if you think the GOP will be blamed for a shutdown despite its best efforts to the contrary and you should choose the second if you think they have a fighting chance at making Dems take the rap on this one. The risk in choosing the second spin, though, is that you’re conceding that the shutdown is damaging; if, as we all expect, the public leans towards blaming Republicans rather than Democrats for shutting down DHS, the media will gleefully point to all the GOPers who think funding is a very grave matter indeed. Here’s moderate Republican Mark Kirk and Boehner ally Charlie Dent choosing door number two:

“I think a shutdown would be a huge mistake for a whole host of reasons, especially given the fact we have ISIS on the march and terrorism again in Europe,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who voted against language last month to freeze a program allowing illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to obtain work permits.

“This strategy was never designed to succeed. Everybody knows that. So now we have to face the reality and do what the American public sent us here to do, which is to govern and fund the Homeland Security department,” Dent told The Hill.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is up for reelection in 2016, also thinks a shutdown would undercut Republicans pledges to govern Washington more efficiently.

“It’s not livable. It’s not acceptable,” Kirk said of a potential shutdown. “When you’re in the majority, you have to govern. You have to govern responsibly. And shutdowns are not responsible.”

Actually, that’s not even the second type of spin that I described. The second type is “the shutdown is a big deal and it’s Democrats’ fault.” Kirk and Dent are implying that it’s Republicans’ fault. So is our old friend Maverick, about whom Jazz will have more in a forthcoming post:

“The American people did not give us majority to have a fight between House and Senate Republicans,” McCain said, referring to Republicans taking control of both the House and Senate after November’s congressional elections. “They want things done. You cannot cut funding from the Department of Homeland Security. We need to sit down and work this thing out.”

Boehner can’t win a messaging war with Democrats over shutting down DHS if he can’t win a messaging war with his own party first. And he knows it, which is why his assurances to Chris Wallace are basically a bluff. I think he’ll tolerate a brief shutdown of DHS to show righties and Democrats that the GOP won’t necessarily cave every time we’re down to the wire on some new fiscal standoff. But we’re talking about a shutdown of days, not weeks, not a protracted standoff designed to force Democrats to make concessions on O’s amnesty. The political risk to the GOP that some sort of terror attack will happen somewhere and Obama will blame it, however implausibly, on DHS’s momentary budget shortfall is too great. Maybe it’d be different if McCain et al. were team players on this. But they don’t call ’em “mavericks” for nothing.