House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) walks from a House Republican caucus meeting after President Trump and the Congress failed to reach a deal on funding for federal agencies on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

One by one, the rank-and-file House Republicans exited their closed-door huddle Saturday morning and stuck to the same script: Their position was strong, and the Senate minority leader was to blame for the government shutdown.

"This is a Chuck Schumer shutdown, case closed," Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), a staunch conservative on immigration issues, told reporters.

A few minutes later, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who supports the effort to reach a bipartisan plan to benefit young undocumented immigrants, blamed Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) for trying to force the issue into federal budget talks when the immigration deadline was six weeks away.

"This particular shutdown, by Schumer, is trying to move the timeline up, trying to cram it," Issa said.

In other eras, this would be normal behavior — members of the same party reading from the same talking points.

This is not normal behavior for House Republicans. They have fought bitterly among themselves since winning the majority in 2010, perhaps never more so than in the fall of 2013. That's when a small but influential faction of conservatives caused the last federal government shutdown, over a bid to force President Barack Obama to zero out funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

By the time it was finished, Republicans had accused one another of acting like "lemmings with suicide vests" and of leading them into a "boxed canyon" to be slaughtered by Obama and congressional Democrats.

Now, at least on the first day of the shutdown, Republicans are unified behind the belief that until the government opens, there will be no more negotiations over the fate of hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

Just because one side gets most of the blame when agencies go into partial shutdown and furlough hundreds of thousands of federal workers is no guarantee that side will pay a political price in the next set of elections. House Republicans, after all, retained their majority after they drove the unpopular 1996 shutdown and increased their majority in 2014.

But, with their own actions, each side has made clear that they are desperate to win over short-term public opinion. Whichever party blinks will have far less leverage in negotiating critical issues over the next two months.


Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaks during a news conference Saturday after President Trump and Congress failed to reach a deal on funding for federal agencies. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The issues range from how to provide short-term funds for federal agencies to a potential two-year deal that will boost military and domestic spending.

There's also the permanent solution for "dreamers," as those young undocumented immigrants protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are known, and the trade-off of a large boost in border security. And there's a collection of health-care matters, including a children's insurance program and the effort to stabilize private insurance markets established under Obamacare.

Win this shutdown fight, and your party will have the upper hand in all those negotiations.

That's why Schumer is working furiously to blame Trump for the failed negotiations after a Friday lunch in the White House brought the New Yorkers close to a broad agreement.

"The president can't take yes for an answer," Schumer said Saturday, saying he backed away once he received negative feedback from congressional conservatives. "Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O."

Democrats, reflecting on their own lessons of shutdowns past, believe they held the upper hand in 2013 because Obama was a serious, disciplined communicator who stuck to his script and framed the issue for the public.

They are betting that Trump will be undisciplined and make his own position toxic, with his often-shifting public statements confusing even his allies about what he wants in the immigration plan. "This should be an easily resolved situation, because you have bipartisan support for each of the main pieces of the deal," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

"So for the president — somebody who wrote 'The Art of the Deal' — it seems like this should be an amateur league challenge, not a major league challenge."

Others think that Trump's unreliable nature could make it harder to reach a deal but that things will eventually be settled on Democratic terms. "How do you negotiate with someone you don't know where they're going to be the day after you leave their office? So it's tough," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), a veteran of the mid-1990s and 2013 government shutdowns.

Republicans believe they are on solid ground in demanding an open government as the first order of business. Their bet is that Democrats will find themselves in a politically unstable position and will eventually give in — just as Republicans did when they were routed during the 2013 showdown.

"Night and day," Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) said of the two shutdowns. This year's theme? "Stay calm, stay together. Schumer's in the position House Republicans were in back then."

Republicans don't dispute that Obama thumped them in 2013, but their key takeaway is that Americans demand that government functions operate in a normal fashion.

Shuttering national parks or federal offices over extraneous debates is a dead-end pursuit, they say.

"Nothing is worth shutting the government down. I don't think any side issue is worth shutting the government down, and I think that Democrats are about to find that out," Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Saturday.

A few Republicans did support reopening the government by giving Democrats a guaranteed vote to permanently fix DACA, which has protected dreamers from deportation since 2012.

"You're not going to get a budget agreement until there's an agreement on DACA and border security," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), an influential moderate who is retiring at the end of the year.

But Issa's views were much closer to the center of Republican gravity.

From a very diverse district outside San Diego, Issa supports a dreamers fix as a first step to a more sweeping immigration overhaul — but he wants those talks to begin after the government reopens.

"I don't think either side should hold a gun to either head over the immigration issue," Issa said.

That's why Republicans feel much better about their standing than 4½ years ago, when no one ever talked about unity — and when no one ever said "we're relaxed and comfortable," as Hudson did this time around.

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