House conservatives conjured a familiar bogeyman Wednesday to explain their imminent surrender in the government shutdown fight: the liberal media.
Their tactics weren’t to blame. Division with the House GOP conference doesn’t account for it. They didn’t overreach in aiming to dismantle Obamacare. Rather, it was the press that failed to communicate their message to the American people — or blatantly misled them.
At a Wednesday briefing, a collection of House conservatives effectively called the attending reporters liars.
“You guys in the media continued reporting that what the conservatives were asking for was the full repeal of Obamacare. That’s absolutely false,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a member of the Republican Study Committee and the point person during the Wednesday briefing.
“We never asked for a full repeal of Obamacare because we can’t get that,” he said. “We have voted on a full repeal of Obamacare that the Senate has rejected every single time. But what we were asking for, our position from the beginning, was exchanging a one-year CR for a one-year delay of Obamacare. That was something we thought both sides were giving on something.”
House Republicans started the shutdown showdown with a move to defund Obamacare in its entirety — an effective repeal. When that failed, they pushed for a one-year delay of the law. The lower chamber has also voted separately more than 40 times to repeal part or all of the law. But the House conservatives insisted Wednesday that they always preferred the delay strategy over defund in the shutdown fight.
“Every time you write a story that Republicans and conservatives were unreasonable in asking for a complete repeal of Obamacare, you have actually been lying to the American people because that’s not what we were asking for,” Labrador said.
Some of Labrador’s colleagues quickly joined in.
“We said that makes sense as a strategy. Let’s fund the government. Let’s treat every American the same. That’s a pretty rationale argument, and that was the bill,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “That’s where we started and where we’ve always been. That got lost in the shuffle of the last six weeks of the debate. That was pretty reasonable, but you guys all like to say that we’re the conservatives, the guys that aren’t.”
“Has anybody seen the media person to ask a liberal Democrat why it’s okay to extend a delay to corporations and not individuals?” added Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) rhetorically. “I’ve seen it once. You know where I’ve seen it? Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. It’s the only time I’ve seen that question asked.”
“We’ve been talking amongst this group for the last four weeks about fairness, about whether or not it’s fair to give extensions to people who have political connections and make our families live under a different law,” he continued. “That is a winning argument for us. But no one asked that question. … Somebody asked whether it would be different next time, in January or February, whenever we take this up again. The natural inclination is to say ‘No, it will be exactly the same.'”
“But if we can figure out a way to drive that message home, that this is about fairness … then the outcome may well be different. If we sit here and talk amongst ourselves for the next six weeks about fairness and nobody wants to ask the other side that question, then the outcome will be exactly the same.”
Labrador capped off the exchange with another jab at the media for not taking House conservatives seriously.
“Over the last few weeks, the thing I have found the most ironic: Before I came to Congress, before I even got involved in politics, the media used to love to say that politicians were worthless because they were controlled by Wall Street, they were controlled by big business, they were controlled by special interests,” he said. “The only group that has stood up to Wall Street, to special interests, to the big businesses has been the tea party group. And in the last few weeks, I have read about that in your papers, but it has all been in a derisive manner. That we are uncontrollable because Wall Street can’t control us.”
“Instead of praising that, which is what the American people have been asking for the last 200 years, that politicians actually listen to individuals, instead of to the ruling class, you guys have actually written about that in a derisive manner, and I think that’s really sad.”
The criticism took a number of other forms. Labrador rebuked his fellow House members for airing their complaints with the House leadership’s strategy to reporters. The leaks Labrador was complaining about got so bad in recent weeks that at one point House GOP leaders pleaded with their members not to leak details of their latest strategy to the conservative National Review.
“I think it also was not very helpful when you have person after person going to the media and whining about how difficult this is,” he said.
He also alleged that President Obama was the one willing to crash the federal debt ceiling to win the fight, saying the White House was banking on the media blaming Republicans if a breach occurred.
“I think that’s something our leadership has been pretty naive about. They think they’re negotiating with somebody who’s unwilling to breach the debt ceiling,” Labrador said. “I think he has wanted to breach the debt ceiling because he knows that the media will blame the Republican Party.”