Wounded Boehner to pivot
By Molly K. Hooper and Russell Berman - 10/20/13 06:00 AM ET
Speaker John Boehner is changing strategies for the next fiscal battle.
The Ohio Republican, wounded by a humiliating defeat from the government shutdown, will shift away from an unwinnable fight to defund ObamaCare. Now, he will try to get his GOP Conference to focus on spending cuts.
Sources close to Boehner say the Speaker feels emboldened by scores of GOP lawmakers who have privately admitted they made a mistake by endorsing Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) strategy during the shutdown battle.
Going forward, the House GOP intends to highlight the flaws of ObamaCare, but it will not factor into a government shutdown scenario in mid-January, the next fiscal deadline.
Even though Boehner has largely avoided media since the House approved the Senate deal late Wednesday night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled the new strategy: by saying “there will not be a government shutdown,” over ObamaCare.
A senior House GOP leadership aide echoed McConnell’s remarks.
“There’s no serious appetite among our members for another shutdown. There is a serious appetite for protecting the spending cuts we’ve secured and fighting for more,” the leadership staffer said.
In many ways, the GOP is attempting to pick up the pieces after polls clearly indicate the party needs significant repairs.
A GOP source close to the leadership equated it with getting a hangover.
"I don't know why people couldn't think two or three steps down the road back in September, but they didn't and they had great fun for awhile…Now it's like the morning after: The hangover hits and maybe next time people will think twice about getting all liquored up again," the source said.
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said that Cruz and outside conservative interest groups calling the shots “really hurt themselves within the institution and conservative Republicans because they did more harm than good.”
The defund-ObamaCare-at-any-cost advocates harmed their cause last week when a key strategist fueling the Ted Cruz fire conceded that the House couldn't win the fight to repeal the president's signature law until after the 2016 elections.
Heritage Action President Michael Needham outraged GOP lawmakers when he said on Fox News Channel “everybody understands that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017."
A sophomore GOP lawmaker, Rep. Tom Reed, said his party is “passionate about repealing ObamaCare,” but questioned "why would you take us down the path and tell everybody in America we can do this?”
Reed, a Democratic target in 2014, added, “That's raising expectations and breeding cynicism because now people have an expectation that you can do something that you say you can, when you know you can't.” Come mid-January when the midterm election season heats up, House Republicans who insisted on the shutdown strategy will be more interested in keeping their jobs, Shimkus said.
Former Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Jim Jordan said as much at an event with fellow conservatives on Wednesday.
"The dynamic in American politics changes in a huge way if Harry Reid no longer controls the Senate. Elections are how we do things in this country, and we all get tired of having to wait for the next election, but that’s just how this great nation works,” Jordan told reporters.
Along those lines, President Obama chastised Republicans a couple days ago, challenging them to “win an election” if they want to change the nation’s policies.
Even though the shutdown strategy badly harmed the GOP in the polls, some claim it strengthened Boehner and his leadership team among a fractious conference that has been distrustful of its “establishment” leaders.
The Speaker's colleagues are acutely aware that Boehner fought the fight with all he had despite disagreeing with the strategy.
"The Speaker has been very clear this was not the ground he would have fought on," a Republican leadership aide said, regarding the decision to press for delaying or defunding ObamaCare in a shutdown fight.
Boehner has emerged from the recent loss with more support than at any time since he claimed the gavel in 2011, a variety of lawmakers revealed to The Hill.
Conservative California Rep. Oceander Rohrabacher (R) said that Boehner has “provided a lot more unity for a man who is not a forceful Speaker.
“Boehner right now, is in a more secure position. Sometimes crises weaken people, sometimes they strengthen them and this crisis has certainly strengthened Boehner’s respect among other Republicans,” Rohrabacher contended.
House Republicans don’t want to repeat history. And Boehner might have more leverage going into the next stage of budget negotiations, according to Boehner's longtime ally, former Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.).
“[The Speaker is] threading a needle that gets smaller and smaller, but you have to have realistic expectations for what you can accomplish and most people in his conference understand that he’s genuine, he’s believable, he’s done this before,” said Walsh, who is now with K&L Gates.