Republicans in disarray: GOP can't quite decide who's to blame for a govt. shutdown

Republicans would love to blame Democrats for a DHS shutdown, but they can’t stop blaming each other

Published February 12, 2015 6:27PM (EST)

Mark Kirk        (AP/M. Spencer Green)
Mark Kirk (AP/M. Spencer Green)

We’re about two weeks shy from the deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security, and the chances of sending DHS into a “shutdown” grow larger with each passing moment. Republicans in the House keep insisting that funding for the department be tied to legislation undoing President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and Republicans in the Senate can’t overcome Democratic filibusters.

The whole legislative process is stalled, and you all know what that means: it’s time to start working the refs and preemptively affixing blame for once again failing to perform the basic functions of government. The Republicans are trying their damnedest to pin this all on the Democrats, but they’re being tripped up by the fact that they also can’t stop blaming themselves.

The most hysterical reaction to date belongs to Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, who informed reporters of his plan to blame Democrats for all the people who might be killed in a hypothetical terrorist attack during the DHS shutdown:

“The Republicans — if there is a successful attack during a DHS shutdown — we should build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office and say, ‘You are responsible for these dead Americans,’” Kirk said Tuesday.

Kirk also told POLITICO: “In the end, eventually the lapdog media — of which you guys are probably all members of — is unable to call it for what it is: just pure politics to try to hurt the Republicans. I think Democrats mistakenly feel a shutdown is a scenario which advantages them.”

It may seem a bit untoward that the Republican senator would already be spitballing some ways to politicize the casualties from a future terrorist attack, but hey, we all have our priorities. Morbid melodrama aside, Kirk’s eruption was surprising because up to this point he’s actually been a vocal skeptic of the Republican strategy. He was one of several Senate Republicans who criticized the House-passed legislation ahead of its filibuster-induced doom. “I think the defunding action leads us to a potential government shutdown scenario,” he said, “which is a self-inflicted political wound for Republicans.” It seemed that he’d changed his mind about which party the shutdown will really hurt.

But then, after trying to pin the imaginary deaths of future Americans on the Democrats, Kirk threw up his hands, declared the whole Republican strategy a mistake, and urged his leadership to cave to the president.

Then there’s John Boehner, whose effort at blame-shifting was steeped in copious amounts of sassiness:

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The speaker’s use of very mild profanity was the topic of some excited discussion among the otherwise bored DC press corps, but his message was unmistakable: failure to fund DHS and the shutdown that may result are the fault of the Democrats. The only problem is that to date, the House GOP has made it abundantly clear that they fault Republicans in the Senate for not passing their funding bill. Last week they were demanding that the Senate GOP devise some secret procedural voodoo trick to overcome the Democratic resistance and force the bill through a cloture vote.

On the Senate side, similar indecision reigns over who is actually to blame. Mitch McConnell gave a speech on the Senate floor yesterday imploring the Democrats to end their filibustering ways and join with the GOP in voting to deport as many undocumented immigrants as humanly possible. “If Democrats claim to be against overreach, and claim to be for funding the critical activities of the Department of Homeland Security, then there’s no reason for them to continue their party’s filibuster,” he said. At the same time, McConnell and other Republicans were also telling reporters that the gridlock in the Senate meant that it was time for the House to send them a new bill. “It’s clearly stuck in the Senate,” McConnell said. “The next step is obviously up to the House.”

So who will be to blame for a shutdown at DHS? Well, the straightforward assessment of the situation is that DHS would already be funded if the Republicans weren’t adamant about using the appropriations bill to force a showdown with the president (a showdown they wouldn’t win even if their bill passed the Senate). But blame is also contingent upon how the public perceives the conflict, and right now the GOP is in complete disarray in its messaging efforts, to say nothing of its legislative strategy. “Unless they can …get a bill passed that forces a presidential veto, Republicans are likely to own any shutdown of DHS,” NBC News concluded. The GOP can’t do that, but they seem hell bent on keeping the circular firing squad going for as long as they can before they inevitably give in.

By Simon Maloy

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