Heading into the government shutdown fight, Republicans thought they had a secret weapon in the form of red-state Democratic senators, many of whom are up for reelection. Given the unpopularity of Obamacare in the senators’ home states, Republicans were counting on being able to peel off a few of their votes in order to get a bill to defund the Affordable Care Act through the upper chamber.
“Senate Republicans have promised to leave no stone unturned in fighting for this bill, and all of us here support that effort…. We are calling on Senate Democrats to do the same thing,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told reporters in September. Of course, they didn’t have much success, as all Democrats ended up sticking together on Obamacare.
Part of the problem, one of the Democrats targeted by Cantor and other Republicans tells National Journal, is that no one even asked for their votes. “No Republican has ever come to me and talked to me about their idea on this,” Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said in an interview Thursday. “The only time Ted Cruz said something to me was when I was literally coming to the floor, you know the two tables down by the desk there where you cast your vote. He said, ‘You should vote for this.’ That was it.”
And it’s not as if Begich would have turned down a meeting. He noted that he’s cosponsored legislation with almost every Republican in the upper chamber and meets with members of the other party often, even to the point where he once “got yelled at by the leadership” for being the sole Democrat to sign onto to a bill sponsored by South Dakota’s John Thune. He’s worked with Rand Paul on auditing the Fed, David Vitter on a toxic-chemical bill, and Kelly Ayotte on a mental-health bill. “I’m all about deficit reduction, I voted for the sequester. But nope, no conversations,” he said.
Begich, who represents the red staters in Senate Demcoratic leadership meetings, said that as far he knows, Cruz and crew made no serious efforts to reach out to other moderates, like Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu or Arkansas’ Mark Pryor. “There was kind of a cursory, ‘Hey, we should talk about things,’ but nothing like the way if you’re trying to get votes,” he said.
All this leads Begich to question what Republicans were actually trying to accomplish with the defund-or-shutdown game plan. “If they were serious about this, rather than making a bumper sticker or running for higher office, they would have been in this office or at least picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey Begich, we have these ideas, what do you think?’ ” said the former Anchorage mayor. “But the only time that my name has been mentioned is when they do a press conference…. My number isn’t hard to find. You can call the Capitol operator if you can’t find it.”