Nunes Vents About Lack of GOP Strategy on Shutdown

Some House Republican colleagues, or “lemmings with suicide vests,” seem lost in the search for a fix.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., at right.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
Oct. 1, 2013, 1:43 p.m.

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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