Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) a “puppet” on Wednesday, accusing him of following Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) into a government shutdown.
“Speaker Boehner is in this position because, sadly, he’s become a puppet — with Ted Cruz pulling the strings,” Schumer told reporters, elevating the rhetoric 36 hours after the first shutdown since 1996.
“When Sen. Cruz told Speaker Boehner to take up a crusade to defund Obamacare, the Speaker did it,” said the No. 3 Senate Democrat. “When Sen. Cruz told the Speaker to delay Obamacare for a year, the Speaker did it. And when [Cruz] told the House pass piecemeal bills in a cynical attempt to pit important programs against each other, the Speaker is now trying to do that.”
The House’s actions in the shutdown battle have, and continue to, mirror those desired by the rabble-rousing senator of nine months. At the outset, Boehner and his leadership team were furious with Cruz for pushing the party to pick a losing fight. Unlike the Texan, Boehner was in Congress during the 1995-1996 shutdowns and believes it will harm Republicans. That makes it more remarkable that he’s still taking his cues from the Texan.
“I don’t know how the Senator makes it down a flight of stairs, because he’s completely incapable of thinking one step ahead,” one senior House Republican aide told TPM two weeks ago, in an example of the tensions between GOP leaders and Cruz.
Cruz initially scuttled Boehner’s attempt to avoid a shutdown confrontation over Obamacare, so Boehner brought up a continuing resolution to defund Obamacare. After the Senate killed that bill, and several follow-up House GOP bills unwinding different parts of Obamacare, the government shut down on Monday at midnight.
Then the Speaker moved to do what Cruz called on him to do weeks ago in the event of a shutdown — a strategy that senior House Republican aides initially laughed off: bring up piecemeal bills to fund only the popular parts of government.
“Again, Senator Cruz is calling the shots here in the House of Representatives,” an exasperated Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said Tuesday evening on the floor.
Democrats saw it as a ploy that would end in Obamacare not being funded, so the White House threatened to veto those bills, and Democrats soon denied Republicans the two-thirds majority needed to speedily pass them. But Boehner is still fighting: now his plan is to pass five stopgap bills with a simple majority on Wednesday.
Cruz’s quixotic quest is backed by ideological allies like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and a swath of well-funded, well-organized hard right groups like Club For Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks that are determined to destroy Obamacare at all costs.
Even some House Republicans are infuriated with Cruz and his cohorts for goading the GOP into a shutdown without an apparent strategy for victory. “We’ve come this far,” moderate Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (CA) told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “Now we have to stick with the Ted Cruz-lemmings strategy.”
It’s not all bad for Boehner. He has co-opted his party’s intransigence to extract a major concession from Democrats by getting them to accept austerity spending levels, if temporarily — a strategy he has executed with success on many prior occasions. But the uncomfortable mix of a steely new Democratic resolve on the shutdown (and upcoming debt limit deadline), and the growing desperation among conservatives, seems to be making it impossible for him to bridge the divide.
Now it’s a matter of finding a way around unruly conservatives before they destroy what’s left of the GOP’s already-tattered brand.