The government just shut down. And, now, the stalemate begins.
Both sides will now spend an indeterminate amount of time (days? weeks?) trying to game out two things:
- If the other side is ready to cave
- If public opinion is on their side or with the other guys
In other words, now that Republicans and Democrats have pulled the trigger on a shutdown, neither has much of an option but to blame the other and see whom the public believes. Because, as The Post's Paul Kane points out, recent shutdowns have only ended when one side realized they were getting blamed for it.
“If there is to be a shutdown, Democrats won't have a lot of options,” said Jim Manley, a former top Senate Democratic aide, hours before the Senate rejected a bill to keep the government open for another month. “If Democrats hang together, at some point Republicans will have to compromise, if as I expect the public blames them for what happens.”
Republicans' strategy is basically the exact opposite.
“Blame Dems,” said Steve Bell, a former Senate GOP budget aide, in an email of what Republicans can do to try to end the shutdown.
In the meantime, the Senate will likely take repeat votes on a short-term spending bill, and, Manley predicted, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will hope that with each vote, more Democrats change their mind and vote in favor of a four-week spending bill.
In the vote that spurred this shutdown, five out of 48 Senate Democrats voted with Republicans. All five — Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Doug Jones (Ala.) — are up for reelection in states that Trump won by double digits in November.
McConnell can hope other potentially vulnerable Democrats in November, like Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.) could change their minds the longer this shutdown goes on.
The thinking is that the American public will recognize that Democrats voted to shut down the government in January over a deal to protect “dreamers,” whose protections don't expire until March.
Josh Holmes, a former top aide to McConnell, points to recent history to make the case that Democrats are the ones to blame: In 2013, conservative Republicans refused to vote for a spending bill that did not defund Obamacare. The government shut down for 16 days, and polls showed a majority of Americans blamed Republicans.
“You take the party label off and watch how that's played out,” Holmes said. “It's never been good for the party that's blocking the funding for reasons irrelevant to the funding.”
But the strategy where Republicans come out on top would also likely require public opinion to change. A Washington Post-ABC News poll on Friday found Americans would blame Trump and Republicans over Democrats by a 20-point margin.
Trump will likely be the focus of a major part of the blame. He's been extremely, and publicly, inconsistent about what he wants in an immigration or spending bill.
Plus, it's just going to be more difficult for Republicans to explain why the government shut down when they control Congress and the White House.
But until there's a clear direction on public opinion about which party shut down the government, expect both sides to spend this shutdown trying to convince you that they're right and the other guys are wrong. They've already thrown negotiations out the window, so that's their only option to end this stalemate.