What happened behind the scenes of that 16-day shutdown?
"I got overrun, that's what happened."
So explained House Speaker John Boehner to President Obama on how he wound up at the head of a party that pushed the government into a 16-day shutdown.
That's one of several anecdote in Politico's behind-the-scenes look at the crisis. During a White House meeting on Oct. 02, a day into the shutdown, Boehner slipped out for a smoke. Barack Obama followed him, demanding a private explanation for the shutdown.
"John, what happened?" he asked. It was then that Boehner confessed.
The Wall Street Journal has additional insider gossip. Here are the most interesting tidbits from both publications:
- Obama and Harry Reid decided on their no-negotiation strategy over the summer, believing that Boehner could never unite his fractured caucus behind anything. Republicans never believed the pair would stick to it.
- Boehner and Reid initially struck a deal in which Boehner would pass a sequester-level budget with an ObamaCare-defunding rider that the Senate could simply strip out. Boehner assumed --incorrectly-- that his caucus only wanted a show vote.
- Boehner's former chief of staff was feeding the White House intelligence, telling it that Boehner would have to fight up until the debt ceiling deadline. Reid also took to monitoring Twitter for hints on the GOP's next move --a sign of how badly communication was flowing.
- Many Republicans turned to Joe Biden, hoping he would intervene. Biden told them he'd been "sidelined … at the direction of the president," one rep says. Reid, bitter about the fiscal cliff deal Biden negotiated, had wanted him out.
- At one point, Boehner brought up the idea of a "grand bargain" at a White House meeting; Reid laughed in his face.
- When Paul Ryan joined the fray at an Oct. 10 meeting, he told Obama that he would "miss his moment" and derail his whole term if he didn't strike a deal. But he also made what White House aides called a "Freudian slip," saying, "We’re going to have six weeks to negotiate the debt limit."
- That night, aides to Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Obama began talking about a broader budget deal, and agreed to talk more in the morning. The White House never called.
- When Mitch McConnell finally decided he had to broker the deal, he partnered with Lamar Alexander --angering Susan Collins, who had worked far harder on the process, only to see her own deal torpedoed.
- McConnell picked Alexander because he had better conservative credentials, and was pals with Reid confidante Chuck Schumer. Alexander and Schumer brokered the deal behind the scenes, then passed it off to Reid and McConnell.
- McConnell tells the Washington Post that he saw himself as a backup quarterback thrown into the game. "I felt like I was on the two-yard line, I had a pretty weak offensive line, and the best I could hope for was to try to punt."
- Boehner made one last-ditch attempt to pass an alternative. "We're running out of time," he told his caucus. "Your 'no' vote has consequences." But as Reid and Obama had predicted, he couldn't convince them.
- With the ball back in McConnell and Reid's court, McConnell made a few last-minute demands. Reid rejected them. It took all of 15 minutes for McConnell to call back and accept Reid's terms.
In an interview Boehner gave to George Stephanopoulis on Oct 06. Boehner admits (starting at 3:20 of the interview) that he had agreed with Harry Reid over a month ago on a budget that was at levels acceptable to the GOP and agreed to a clean CR (continuing resolution) at or close to the Ryan Budget level. Boehner then under pressure from TX Sen. Ted Cruz and the tea party moved the goal posts to demand defunding of the ACA as further ransom.
Boehner is essentially admitting to negotiating in bad faith here and backing off on his word. He sacrificed his integrity to kowtow to Senator Cruz.
So, if you agree with someone and they renege on the deal and push for further concessions, do you give them those further concessions and wait for them to demand more or do you stand your ground to prevent further bad faith bargaining?
What other option was there but for Obama and Reid to decide on a no-negotiation strategy over the summer? Negotiating with terrorists is futile. It only encourages them to make bigger demands. In this particular case, the terrorists were so driven by blind hatred that they were pointing the gun at their own heads and threatening to shoot.
The bottom line is this: As Speaker, John Boehner must now decide whether to stand up to the cats or continue trying to herd them. He's not been able to do that to pass meaningful legislation over the past three years in all of these "crisis" situations. The GOP puts a match to the crisis gasoline, then Boehner struggles mightily to get the House GOP behind any set of ideas in order to douse the flames. The obstructionists have won every time. One has to conclude then that he is not worth negotiating with because nothing fruitful will come of it. He can't deliver the goods when he needs to.
Boehner is doing his best under very tough circumstances. If he wants to make progress he'll have to dump the Hastert Rule and allow open votes where enough Republican members can join with Democrats to pass a bill that meets Republican, not tea party, goals and makes progress for the country. This will freeze out the extremists. It won't be easy, and if he fails, it won't be fun for the country.