Phones in the office of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., were ringing incessantly Tuesday with weary staffers politely fielding callers complaining about the government shutdown, Obamacare, and a wide range of other frustrations with Washington.
The California Republican made headlines Monday for calling some of his Republican colleagues "lemmings with suicide vests" for being willing to shut down the government over Obamacare, as reported by The Washington Post.
By Tuesday, Nunes made plain he was exasperated with the situation.
"It's fun," he said, quickly clarifying, "I'm being a little sarcastic."
"There's just a lot of confusion out there," he said of the public response. "The Republican base is all for this—all for getting rid of Obamcare—but it's problematic because there aren't the votes to do it, so there is a little misunderstanding."
"Then we'll obviously start hearing from some constituents who need help from the federal government, whether it be passports or get to the national parks or what have you."
Staffers in Nunes's office were overheard explaining to callers that he has repeatedly voted against Obamacare, but that he wanted to avoid a government shutdown.
"I was never a big fan of this strategy," he said. "Now we are in full implementation of the Cruz strategy, so now I guess you have got to see it play out. How it ends—you got me."
Nunes said he doesn't think the conservatives who support the approach advocated by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, ever thought it through.
"I don't know if they ever knew how it is supposed to end," he said. "I don't think they ever thought that through all the way.... If you are going to take a hostage and shut down the government, you damn sure better have an endgame and this didn't have that."
Nunes said he remains concerned that the far-right faction could prevail in fighting the debt ceiling, which is around the corner and could have negative economic ramifications.
"You have a few folks on our side that are willing to do that, and you have a White House and many Democrats, who are rooting for that, because I think they'd love to turn around and blame Republicans for the economic problems," he said. "It's a dangerous concoction when you have few people here in the House who are able to wag the tail of the dog and at the same time have the leadership of this country—the folks who have been elected to lead in the White House—who behind the scenes are secretly rooting for it."
He emphasized frustration that the upset in the Republican Party plays to the hand of Democrats. "I'm not going to name names, but a lot of my Democratic friends, behind closed doors laugh; they are promoting it, egging us on. We probably all need a little time-out, but it is probably not going to happen."
Nunes said he has dubbed some of the tea-party-inspired flank of the GOP conference the "lemming caucus" because they are so focused on making a point that they are harming the party.
"There are a few folks around here who should be running for leadership when you have a leadership position open.... The last two Congresses, they didn't run, and then, this last gambit—they created this spectacle on the floor that was totally unacceptable," he said.
Nunes said that dynamic is playing out.
"For three years straight, they don't support anything that the leadership does, and at the same time they don't run for leadership. That is not leadership. Those are what I call lemmings," he said.
"They sneak around. They don't publicly do much. They don't run for office. They sneak around, and they plot and they plan on ways to take down rules and everything that a majority should not be doing," he said.
Nunes's frustration amounts to open disgust. "They are operating like a parliamentary system, not a democratic republic, and if you don't have 218 votes you don't have anything. For the last three years we have had a tough time getting 218 votes, and they are being egged on by Democrats, and they don't get it. So that is why I call them lemmings, the lemming caucus."
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