Who Won In the Shutdown Saga?

Speaker of the House John Boehner seems to fight back tears while listening to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol March 9, 2011 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Matthew Cooper
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Matthew Cooper
Oct. 16, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

Jay Car­ney said there were no win­ners in this de­bacle. Really? Some emerged from the rubble bet­ter than oth­ers.

Ted Cruz (Win­ner) ““ Yes, he looks like a loser. He didn’t do any real dam­age to Obama­care. His stunt hurt the eco­nomy. He’s re­viled by many of his col­leagues and lam­pooned every­where. But he’s not try­ing to make friends with The New York Times or John Mc­Cain. Hell, he lost the Hou­s­ton Chron­icle, which en­dorsed him last year and ripped in­to him on Thursday for hav­ing made such a hash of Wash­ing­ton. But Cruz is try­ing to be Amer­ica’s con­ser­vat­ive lead­er and for now he’s ar­gu­ably that guy. (Sarah who?) Huey Long and Joseph Mc­Carthy were not pop­u­lar sen­at­ors but they built na­tion­al con­stitu­en­cies us­ing the Sen­ate as their plat­form. Today, Cruz may look like a kid who pulled the fire alarm, ru­in­ing the prom. But in a few months he may just look like the coun­try’s most vo­cal crit­ic of the Af­ford­able Care Act. He’ll be in Iowa later this month speak­ing at the Re­pub­lic­an State Party’s Ron­ald Re­agan Din­ner. Even today he’s po­s­i­tion­ing him­self as Obama’s bitterest foe. “Un­for­tu­nately, once again, it ap­pears the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment is re­fus­ing to listen to the Amer­ic­an people,” Cruz said on Wed­nes­day. “The deal that has been cut provides no re­lief to the mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans who are hurt­ing be­cause of Obama­care.”

Barack Obama (Loser) ““ Re­pub­lic­an pop­ular­ity took a dive but it’s hard to see the pres­id­ent gain­ing from all of this. He’s got to face an­oth­er round of debt-ceil­ings and gov­ern­ment shut­downs later this winter and his say­ing he wants to leap right in­to im­mig­ra­tion re­form seems de­luded. In­stead, he has the joy of more long range en­ti­tle­ment-and-budget talks with Re­pub­lic­ans who want to put him in a dicey situ­ation with his own party. What’s more, the pres­id­ent said that he wouldn’t ne­go­ti­ate ““ and a ne­go­ti­ated cease­fire is what we ended up with.

John Boehner (Loser) ”“ Bet­ter to be feared than loved, the say­ing goes. The speak­er is neither, not enough any­way. He couldn’t keep his party from go­ing down this dis­astrous path and when it came time to gin up a Re­pub­lic­an bill to raise the debt ceil­ing and keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning he couldn’t get his un­ruly caucus to agree on a plan. No one doubts Boehner’s job is like herd­ing cats and be­ing shot at ““ at the same time. But the speak­er is second in line to the pres­id­ency and is sup­posed to have a gavel of steel. He couldn’t con­trol the con­fer­ence and now he has to pass a Sen­ate-con­cocted agree­ment and do so not with a ma­jor­ity of his own people but with the help of Nancy Pelosi. Poor guy looks weak. Even worse, there’s no one poised to take over so he’s stuck. The irony is that with the far right be­ing dis­cred­ited, the odds of a coup against Boehner seem more re­mote than ever.

Hil­lary Clin­ton (Win­ner) ““ Keep­ing quiet dur­ing this mess was a smart move. D.C. looks un­gov­ern­able and she’s not hav­ing any­thing to do with it. If you want to be pres­id­ent in 2016 what up­side could there pos­sibly be in weigh­ing in on stuff like the med­ic­al device tax?

Joe Biden (Loser) ““ On the oth­er hand, where was Joe Biden? As pres­id­ent of the Sen­ate and the des­ig­nated grown up, shouldn’t he have been in on the deal mak­ing and help­ing to save us from this mess? When the clock ap­proached mid­night last year and a shut­down nearly came, he teamed up with his old Sen­ate col­league Mitch Mc­Con­nell to forge a deal that passed the GOP-led house. This time he wasn’t to be seen.

The Reas­on­able Caucus (Losers) ““ You have to ad­mire all those reas­on­able Re­pub­lic­ans who the Cruz ship would crash. John Mc­Cain, Susan Collins, Peter King, Bob Cork­er ““ they all smelled the dis­aster early and did yeo­man’s work to try and stave it off. Collins took an es­pe­cially strong role com­ing up with the idea of six-months of keep­ing the gov­ern­ment open and a delay in the med­ic­al equip­ment tax. This was a re­turn to form for Mc­Cain who used to reg­u­larly be the sens­ible cent­rist and has got­ten away from it in re­cent years. Mc­Cain gra­ciously poin­ted to all the wo­men sen­at­ors who had been key to help­ing set the stage for a deal. That in­cludes Collins but also Mary Landrieu, Lisa Murkowski, and Kelly Ayotte. But all of that com­mon sense was at best a Band-Aid. This wasn’t, say, the Gang of 14 that brought peace to the ju­di­cial nom­in­a­tion fights of the last dec­ade. It was a re­mind­er that the voices of com­mon sense rarely get heard. The Sen­ate plan, which was rat­i­fied by the House, has their fin­ger­prints on it but it was primar­ily a Mc­Con­nell-Re­id deal not a doc­u­ment from The Reas­on­able Caucus.

Harry Re­id and Mitch Mc­Con­nell (Win­ners) ““ Each is about as likable as a teach­er giv­ing de­ten­tion. But wheth­er it’s their longev­ity or the ser­i­ous­ness with which they took their po­s­i­tions, Harry and Mitch came up with a solu­tion that saved the House from it­self and spared the rest of us hav­ing to leave in refugee camps while in­vestors fled our shores. “The coun­try came to the brink of a dis­aster. But in the end, polit­ic­al ad­versar­ies set aside their dif­fer­ences and dis­agree­ment to pre­vent that dis­aster,” Re­id said on Wed­nes­day morn­ing. What’s more, Re­id kept Demo­crats to­geth­er which wasn’t easy giv­en that most voted against the med­ic­al device tax. Had a Joe Manchin or Mark Pry­or gone off the re­ser­va­tion, it would have been a very tough week. For his part, Mc­Con­nell also kept his caucus to­geth­er. The iras­cible Cruz him­self de­clined to block the fi­nal meas­ure. They put aside their an­im­os­ity and cut a deal. That is so weird.

Re­pub­lic­an Gov­ernors (Win­ners) ““ Chris Christie looked like a mensch when he came through D.C. dur­ing the crisis telling Fox News: “Every­body plays brinks­man­ship and people who I have spoken with across the coun­try, they’re tired of it and no one’s go­ing to come out this un­scathed in Wash­ing­ton nor should they be.” But every Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor who har­bors pres­id­en­tial as­pir­a­tions, wheth­er it’s Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jin­dal, or oth­ers, looks like Churchill com­pared to this crowd. Amer­ic­ans elec­ted three people straight from the Sen­ate in the last 100 years ““ War­ren Hard­ing, John Kennedy, and Barack Obama. It’s hard to see why they’d dip in­to the Sen­ate pool (or, Ayn Rand for­bid, the House) pool after this mess. But the men from Trenton and Bat­on Rouge look a lot bet­ter by com­par­is­on.

Kath­leen Se­beli­us (Loser) ““ HHS Sec­ret­ary Se­beli­us might be won­der­ing why she isn’t in Kan­sas any­more. The Obama­care rol­lout has been a mess and even if the web­sites get re­paired in the com­ing weeks, no one will for­get they were di­ci­er than us­ing Tick­et­mas­ter to buy Stones tick­ets. The rol­lout came dur­ing the shut­down and at­tack on the Af­ford­able Care Act. No won­der Jay Car­ney had to say that Se­beli­us had “the full con­fid­ence of the pres­id­ent.” Nev­er a good sign if you’re get­ting asked. Her clum­si­ness made the GOP de­mand to delay Obama­Care seem reas­on­able. The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tees con­duct hear­ings on the bungled launch this month. And if she didn’t have enough on her plate she will, un­der the stop­gap agree­ment, have cer­ti­fy that would-be in­sur­ance buy­ers aren’t fudging their in­comes ““as­sum­ing they can get on the ex­change.

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