Thursday brought the latest entry in this long-running saga. It’s one that showed just how single-minded Republicans are about appealing to their base right now — and portends even more hazardous shutdown fights in the near future.
The crux of the shutdown threat this time was President Biden’s vaccine requirements — and particularly his mandate that businesses with at least 100 employees require either coronavirus vaccines or weekly testing for their employees. All but one House Republican (Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger) voted against funding the government with one day to go until a shutdown. By the time the measure got to the Senate, cooler heads prevailed, and Republicans settled for a symbolic vote on nixing the vaccine-or-testing requirement and stricter actual vaccine mandates on federal employees, before supplying the necessary votes to keep the government open.
What was particularly remarkable about the votes was this: The bill effectively extended the funding levels from the Trump administration. In the end, 212 out of 213 House Republicans voted against doing that, as Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) effectively acknowledged.
“While I’m sure President Trump will be only too delighted to have his last budget continue for almost a year after he left office, there is real work left to be done,” Cole said.
There is no question that the Republican Party and its supporters broadly oppose vaccine mandates. But the requirements for large businesses have often wrongly been pitched as strict vaccine requirements, when in fact that weekly testing option is quite available and has polled strongly, even relatively so among Republicans.
In the end, it’s not clear we got particularly close to an actual shutdown. Those 212 House Republicans knew full well that Democrats would provide enough votes to fund the government in that chamber. And the effort went out with a whimper in the Senate, with even many top Republicans acknowledging in advance that the gambit was foolhardy.
“The normal blame-taking would be Republicans take on the blame,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) acknowledged, correctly.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has often differed with such tactics forced by his caucus, undercut the effort by predicting its demise, including earlier Thursday: “I don’t think shutting down the government over this issue is going to get an outcome. It would only create chaos and uncertainty, so I don’t think that’s the best vehicle to get this job done.”
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) might have made the most impassioned political case against the gambit.
“Even though 96 percent of Republicans do not want to have [a shutdown], it’ll be Republicans that will be blamed for it. And that’s very unfortunate,” Rounds said. “Some of my Republican colleagues are playing right into their hands. And if we have a shutdown, it could be an extended shutdown.”
Added Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), “I kind of hoped we’d all learned our lesson that, you know, shutdowns aren’t really a great tool or a leverage.”
But that lesson has decidedly not been learned. And the 212 House Republicans who went along with seeking such leverage reinforces how even the repeated failures of these efforts don’t seem to have registered. Of course, the goal wasn’t really to get something that even many Republicans acknowledged they wouldn’t get; it was to give the appearance of fighting for something that a passionate portion of the base wanted.
While even proponents of the strategy acknowledged it was unlikely to work, some wanted to push the envelope even further, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has now repeatedly stated she wants to shut the government down.
“Shut it down,” Greene urged her colleagues from the House floor on Thursday. All but one of them went along with effectively voting for just that. And it showed that when Greene says she and her ilk are the base, it’s probably truer than GOP leaders would like to admit.
The continued use of such tactics in the absence of success or even political gain also suggests we’ll only see more of this in the near future. This one went out with a whimper because Republicans didn’t really have the power or the will to force the issue. The calculus changes when their membership increases and they control majorities, as they probably will after the 2022 election. At that point, it seems, we’ll see just how much the Greene wing and the base are truly calling the shots.