The government shutdown that most Democrats thought would benefit them politically has not gone according to plan.
Sure, the initial polling shows that more Americans think Republicans (44 percent) are to blame than Democrats (35 percent), as most expected. But Democrats have hardly come off looking great. Reports that the Obama administration ordered the shuttering of the open-air World War II Memorial, temporarily blocking veterans from visiting, didn’t help. Top Democrats such as House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz have refusedto give up their paychecks during the shutdown. “Negotiations” between the two sides have descended into a war of Twitter hashtags. The White House is trolling for shutdown sob stories.
An anonymous White House aide recently boasted, “It doesn’t really matter to us” how long it lasts, because “we are winning.” But one wonders how long that ruse will last, as the president, whose approval rating remains underwater, publicly plays up the consequences of the shutdown.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, in particular, has had a rough week. Reid, who is reportedly the driving force behind the Democrats’ hardline negotiating strategy — or, rather, their refusal to negotiate — has lost his cool on more than one occasion. On Wednesday, he challenged the intelligence of a female reporter who asked why Democrats opposed the GOP plan to fund individual aspects of the government, such as clinical trials for children with cancer. “Why would we want to do that?” Reid wondered, much to his regret. On Thursday, the majority leader blocked a Republican attempt to vote on a bill to fund services and benefits for military veterans, even though the measure had passed the House with significant bipartisan support.
He has repeatedly lashed out at House speaker John Boehner, calling him a “coward” behind closed doors, questioning whether he had the “courage” to stand up to conservative “anarchists” (a favorite buzzword of his), and suggesting that Boehner is “keeping the government shut because I hurt his feelings.” Veteran GOP aides recognized the latter comment as a transparent attempt to cast Boehner in the mold of former speaker Newt Gingrich, whose proclivity for temper tantrums made him an easy political target, and a liability to his own party. Democratic efforts to paint Boehner, a much more modest man, as a Gingrich-like character have thus far been in vain.
Reid’s animosity toward Boehner is said to have reached a fever pitch after the House passed a continuing resolution to fund the government that also included a provision to eliminate Obamacare subsidies for members of Congress and their staff. The measure, often referred to as the Vitter amendment, is controversial, but polls extraordinarily well. Senate Democrats even sought to derail it by dredging up Republican senator David Vitter’s 2007 prostitution scandal.