October 3, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

There’s one question I think all reporters should be asking Republicans today:

Why are you against passing a clean CR and reopening the government?

That’s pretty basic stuff — and something that many House Republicans, in the third day of a shutdown, seem to have no idea how to answer.

Greg already quoted the previously unknown Republican representative Marlin Stutzman, whose Kinsey gaffe defined the shutdown: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Now, via Brian Beutler, we have a Tea Artier, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, giving a gibberish answer to the question of why they’re still out.

Greg says, with some justification, that this is about Republicans stuck in 2011. That’s a part of it. At a deeper level I think what’s happening here is, as I said back in May, extortion for the sake of extortion: holding the nation hostage in order to prove their True Conservative credentials is the principle they’re fighting for, with the specific demands sort of irrelevant to that.

Either way, what Republicans have been up to since about Saturday night has been stumbling from one Fox-ready talking point to the next, while moving farther and farther from actually having any idea of what, specifically, they believe is worth shutting the government down over. And don’t forget: 20 Republicans now publicly support the clean CR that would reopen the government, and reports have it that anywhere from 100 to some 180 privately would be happy to see that result, even if they are too fraidy-cat to vote that way.

Note, by the way, that it’s perfectly fair to ask Democrats why they oppose the House’s later offer (a CR that would delay the individual mandate for a year and demagogue Hill staff health insurance). The difference? They actually have an answer to that one.

Tough questions from reporters can’t really resolve bargaining impasses; nor can they force a dysfunctional party to act rational. They can’t even force politicians to answer their questions, although experienced reporters will know — and report — when a question is being ducked.

However, right now perhaps the most important thing to report is that many Republicans apparently have no idea why they are shutting down the government. Seems like that would be a good thing for the news media to ask about and to talk about.