Not giving an inch is seen as best strategy for win at White House
By Amie Parnes - 09/30/13 08:12 PM ET
There was no shadow of doubt at the White House as the clocked ticked down to midnight Monday.
Officials suggested that a refusal to negotiate over funding the government was the winning strategy.
White House officials expressed confidence they wouldn’t have to back down in the slightest, while aides close to Obama, former administration officials and top Democratic strategists who confer with the White House say the chances of them negotiating with Republicans are slim to none.
Sources said the White House believes GOP divisions, and polls showing more people would blame Republicans in Congress for a shutdown, mean Obama — who has been blamed for giving in too much in previous bargaining sessions — won’t have to give an inch.
White House officials were even more emboldened by support from Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who said publicly that she disagreed with the House Republican strategy of linking the Affordable Care Act with “the continuing functioning of government.”
Some Republicans in the House on Monday also expressed public support for moving a clean funding measure, something the White House will see as giving it more leverage.
Those close to the White House say Republicans have backed themselves into a corner with few options remaining.
“This is truly [Speaker] John Boehner’s [R-Ohio] worst nightmare,” one former senior administration official said. “This is Republican on Republican violence right now. This has absolutely nothing to do with Democrats or the president. So all Obama has to do now is sit back.”
The battle isn’t about “lack of engagement,” the former official added.
“The president could go to the Capitol and give the speech of his life on why we shouldn’t shut down the government. But you have this Tea Party base that will never be placated, and they’re itching for a fight. But I have news for them: They won’t win it,” the official said.
Another former administration official added, “The question isn’t, should he negotiate. It’s who does he negotiate with. Who up there is actually empowered to cut a deal. It’s not clear. They can’t make up their minds amongst themselves, so who can he negotiate with to reach a deal that sticks?”
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer backed that sentiment in an interview on CNN.
“What the Republicans want is to extract some ideological concession in order to save face for the Tea Party that funds the government for two months,” Pfeiffer said. “What happens two months from now? What are they going to want then? Full repeal of ObamaCare? Overturn of Roe v. Wade? An installment of [Mitt] Romney as president? At some point, we have to bring this cycle of hostage taking and brinksmanship to an end.”
In the lead-up to the shutdown, Obama sent strong signals that he felt he was on the right side of the fight. On Saturday, with the House in session and voting on legislation to avoid the shutdown, the president played a round of golf.
Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — who has been coordinating closely with the White House — was in no rush to convene the upper chamber on Sunday.
The first former senior administration official credited Reid with stepping up his role in the fight. “Harry Reid is basically saying, ‘No way, not again,’ ” the former official said.
Some Republicans accused the White House of over-confidence Monday and said Obama risked getting plenty of blame for a shutdown by not negotiating with Republicans.
“If we’re unable to avoid a crisis in the next few weeks, the president will have to explain why he sat at home and did nothing to help find a solution,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner.
“Obama is the president, and his job is to lead,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman at the Republican National Committee. “The longer he refuses to come to the table, the more Americans will realize he’s the typical politician he promised he wouldn’t be.”
With cable news networks displaying countdown clocks until the deadline Monday, Obama did telegraph a willingness to at least talk to congressional leaders.
“I suspect I will be speaking to the leaders today, tomorrow and the next day,” Obama told reporters earlier in the day.
Later in the day, however, he signaled a tougher line, stating that “one faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight an election.”
“You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job,” Obama said.
Those close to the White House predicted that a deal would eventually be reached, even after the deadline. But they reaffirmed the confidence that it would be Republicans who would suffer the consequences.
In the meantime, as the debt-ceiling fight heats up, they said Obama would ramp up the rhetoric and use the bully pulpit to drive home that point. In addition, one former senior official said Obama has to get the business community and Wall Street to say, “What the f--- is happening here?”
“As people realize what this will do to the stock market, they’ll ask Boehner and the Tea Party, ‘Is this what you really want?’” the official added.
“The more he can remain a bit above the fray and say, ‘I’m not going to get on your level’, the better. ”