The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Morning Plum: Ted Cruz’s brilliant strategy to help Ted Cruz

The fault lies not in Ted Cruz’s government shutdown strategy. It lies in the GOP leadership’s craven unwillingness to see Ted Cruz’s government shutdown strategy through to the end. We know this, because Ted Cruz is already telling us so.

Byron York has a fascinating piece this morning getting at the intensifying disagreements among Republicans over the party’s response to Obama’s executive action shielding millions from deportation. Republicans who doubt the wisdom of following Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann and Steve King over the shutdown cliff ask a good question: Why stage a confrontation now, when Republicans will be in control of both chambers of Congress next year, and will be in a marginally better position (if at all) to force Obama to relent?

The answer, York reports, is that conservatives don’t “trust” the GOP leadership and don’t believe they really want to see this fight through — and will make excuses for punting even when they hold 54 Senate seats next year. As Cruz puts it: “Even with a Republican House and Senate, the same folks who are saying ‘Gosh, we can’t do anything now’ in January are going to say ‘Gosh, we don’t have 60 votes in the Senate.'”

The House GOP leadership wants to fund most of the government for a year, while only funding the Department of Homeland Security — which oversees immigration enforcement — until February, supposedly to pick up the battle over executive action next year. Cruz says that’s not good enough — he wants Republicans to attach a “rider” defunding Obama’s action to the spending bill, and challenge Democrats to oppose it. But as York notes, once Democrats shrug at this move, “what happens after that is not clear.”

These quotes from unnamed GOP aides on both sides perfectly capture the situation:

“Conservative Republicans believe leadership will cave to Obama because conservative Republicans are not stupid,” said one GOP aide. “Leadership is bound and determined to never have a funding fight on executive amnesty.”
“Ask them what their backup plan is after the government shuts down,” said another GOP aide, referring to the forces who want action now. “They don’t have one. They know their plan is a dead-end strategy, but they don’t care. All they care about is making themselves look good to the Heritage Action/purity-for-profit crowd.”

That last question is a good one. But the answer to it is easy, and gets at why Ted Cruz’s strategy is such a brilliant one — for Ted Cruz. What comes next, after the government shuts down? Simple: Republicans hold the line until Obama is forced to buckle and give up his executive action. How long would that take, and how much damage would be done in the process, both to the GOP and to the country? Well, that doesn’t matter.

It is true, as the GOP aide sympathetic to Cruz says above, that GOP leaders don’t appear to want a funding showdown over Obama’s action. But there’s a good reason for that: As Jonathan Bernstein explains, the politics of government shutdowns institutionally favor presidents, which means the GOP stands to lose a lot more if a protracted shutdown takes place. But in Cruz’s construction of the situation, none of that matters. Since Obama’s move is tantamount to that of a “monarch,” it is on Congress to resist it at all costs and by any means necessary, and if it doesn’t, it will have betrayed the American people.

By the way, I don’t think the battle over executive action is a slam dunk for Democrats. There are ways in which they could lose this fight. But it seems to me the more likely way Republicans win it is if they pass targeted immigration legislation next year that includes a measure rolling back Obama’s action, and pick off Senate Democrats to support it — enough to override a veto.

If anything, turning this into a shutdown fight probably helps Obama. But to Cruz, it doesn’t matter if the incentives in a shutdown standoff likely dictate that Obama would hold out until Republicans backed down. Republican leaders should hold out forever, or until Obama caves, whichever comes first. If they don’t, they have failed.

In other words, there is no point at which Cruz’s strategy can ever be declared a failure. It can only be failed by the fecklessness of GOP leaders.


* DO DEMS HAVE LEVERAGE IN SHUTDOWN FIGHT? Republicans may not be able to pass funding for the government without Democratic help. Politico reports that Nancy Pelosi is privately telling fellow Dems to let Boehner twist in the wind:

“If you think it’s a good idea to tell them, ‘Oh, I’ll be with you no matter what,’ then you destroy our leverage,” Pelosi said, according to sources in the room. “And if they have the votes, then it’s a non-situation.”

As I reported yesterday, Democrats will probably end up supporting a bill funding most of the government that defers a defunding fight over Obama’s executive action until next year, but only if the current one does nothing to undermine that action.

 * A ‘BOOM’ JOB REPORT: The November jobs numbers are in, and we’ve got some real movement here, folks:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 321,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.8 percent. Job gains were widespread, led by growth in professional and business services, retail trade, health care, and manufacturing.

Ben White: “There is really no soft underbelly to this jobs report. Wages up, work-week longer, labor force bigger, revisions up. It’s unalloyed good.”

* WILL REPUBLICANS OPPOSE PROBE INTO GARNER KILLING? Carl Hulse reports that Senate Republicans now say the Justice Department civil rights investigation into the police killing of Eric Garner will raise questions about the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who is leading the probe:

“Why does the federal government feel like it is its responsibility and role to be the leader in an investigation in a local instance?” asked Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who said all state and local options should first be exhausted. “I want to know what her priorities are.”

It will be interesting to see how many Republicans agree. Rand Paul has come out for action against police over-militarization and has even linked the problem directly to race. So you’d think there might be some bipartisan agreement on a probe, no?

* GOP TO HOLD UP AG-NOMINEE OVER DEPORTATIONS? Also from the above story, some Republican Senators want to use the nomination of Lynch to clarify whether she agrees with the legality of Obama’s deportation relief:

Republicans agreed that Ms. Lynch would face tough questioning over her view of the president’s executive action easing the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants….”She is going to have to answer whether or not she intends to follow the law,” said Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a vocal critic of the policy. “That is going to be a big issue.”

This move has also been endorsed by (natch) Ted Cruz. As Steven Dennis recently observed, blocking the first female African American Attorney General, to block deportation relief, might complicate GOP outreach.

* YES, DEMS WERE RIGHT TO PASS OBAMACARE: Paul Krugman does a demolition job on Chuck Schumer’s suggestion that Dems should have “focused on the economy” rather than expand health care to millions when they had the opportunity. Krugman notes the ACA benefits more than just a “small” minority, adding:

What is the purpose of winning elections? The answer, I hope, is to do good — not simply to set yourself up to win the next election. In 2009-10, Democrats had their first chance in a generation to do what we should have done three generations ago, and ensure adequate health care for all of our citizens. It would have been incredibly cynical not to have seized that opportunity, and Democrats should be celebrating the fact that they did the right thing.

One additional point: If Democrats hadn’t reformed health care then, how long would it have taken before the next chance to do it arose?

 * QUESTION OF THE DAY, FAKE DEFICIT HAWK EDITION: Senator Dick Durbin asks a good question of the incoming Senate Republicans’ majority:

“We’re looking to see if they’re still budget hawks when they’re in the majority.”

Spoiler: No.

* AND THE QUOTE OF THE DAY, FECKLESS GOP LEADERSHIP SELL-OUT EDITION: Speaker John Boehner was asked about conservative suggestions that Obama be disinvited from the State of the Union address. He squashed the idea:

When asked if the State of the Union invitation was in jeopardy, Mr. Boehner responded with a laugh. “The more the president talks about his ideas, the more unpopular he becomes,” he said. “Why would I want to deprive him of that opportunity?”

Good response! But the fact that Boehner even needs to come up with a careful answer to this question is itself striking and revealing.