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While GOP ‘picked a fight that they couldn’t win,’ Democrats emerge reunited

October 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
What are the practical and political outcomes of the 16-day stalemate in Congress that's finally drawing to a close? Although the GOP retained sequester spending levels, Democrats come out "energized and unified." Judy Woodruff talks to Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report and Susan Page of USA Today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what is the political state of play after 16 days of the government shutdown?

Two close observers of it all join us, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, and Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call newspaper.

Welcome back to the program.

Susan, any doubt that this deal is going to fly, is going to pass tonight?

SUSAN PAGE, Washington Bureau Chief, USA Today: No, it’s clear that it’s going to pass. It’s going to pass easily in the House. That had been a question.

And I think that everyone’s going to declare victory and go home and have that this fight over again in a few months.

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu, no doubt in your mind this is going to pass?

STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: No doubt. No, it’s going to pass.

And the pragmatic conservatives in the Republican Party have seen the writing on the wall for a long time, and the uncompromising conservatives are out of options.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what — what substantively did Republicans get out of this?

STUART ROTHENBERG: They got nothing. They got nothing. This was a disaster for them. They picked a fight that they couldn’t win.

And, in fact, all the political benefits accrue to the president and to the Democrats. The Republicans caved. The president didn’t have to compromise, so the Republicans start off with a weaker hand when they have to engage again. The Democrats are going to benefit from recruiting in congressional races. Republican money may dry up. I mean, there’s a — this is a mess for Republicans.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to…

SUSAN PAGE: I would just disagree on one thing. I think they got one thing that they don’t seem to recognize, which is they got what we call the sequester budget levels. The continuing resolution…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Lower spending.

SUSAN PAGE: These lower spending levels that Democrats six months ago were saying were completely unacceptable, that’s the new baseline. Now, Republicans didn’t note that and claim victory with it, but the fact is that did happen and that is a Republican victory.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as both of you have just referred to, we’re going to see — come January, February, just a few months from now, you’re going to see the same argument again over spending levels and over the debt limit.

Susan, what’s to stop this play from just being enacted all over again?

SUSAN PAGE: I think the one thing that might change it from just being another repetition in a few months is the way the Republicans got their clock cleaned in this one.

And so they may choose not to have another kind of showdown over the debt ceiling, like they did this time. I mean, that’s one — if you want to count Barack Obama as a big winner — and I think I do believe he’s a winner from this fight — it’s — he made his point that he wasn’t going to negotiate on the debt ceiling, and he didn’t, and the Republicans end up caving.

STUART ROTHENBERG: I think one question is what the survey data, what the polls show after the 1st of the year. If the Republican numbers have rebounded, then Ted Cruzes of the world will say, see, this wasn’t long, permanent damage, and we can have another fight. If it looks like there was considerable damage and it’s long-lasting, I think a lot of conservatives will say, well, maybe we better move on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they were insisting on these early dates as part of this language, right, January and February? The White House wanted a later debt limit rise. They didn’t get it.

SUSAN PAGE: All the rational people wanted later deadlines, so that they don’t — so we don’t have to go through this so soon, so we don’t have to go through it during an election year. That will be another calculation when these fights come up. That’s the year that these — that all the House members and a third of the senators will be running for reelection.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stu, you touched on some of the effects on the Republican Party. How do you see it? How much of this is the Republican Party broadly? How much of it is confined just to Ted Cruz and some members of the Tea Party?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Oh, no, I think it — I think the damage is to the Republican Party, and it’s in all these areas.

The Democrats are emboldened. They’re recruiting candidates. They have already recruited a candidate in Nebraska against Lee Terry who wasn’t running, but now is involved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Based just on what’s been going on?

STUART ROTHENBERG: I think so, yes, primarily the chaos in Washington and the fact that the Republicans are now more easily demonized and defined as the guys who are against anything and everything.

Republicans are worried about both small-dollar fund-raising and big-dollar fund-raising. They’re concerned with the small-dollar folks because those are the true blue grassroots Tea Party conservatives who now have nothing — there’s no benefit from — the Republicans caved. They didn’t get anything.

And the big donors, who are more pragmatic, are petrified at the thought the Republicans are going to drive the party and the country off the economic cliff. And not only that, Judy. If you looked at — you also have to look at what the Republicans gave up. They gave up arguments over the past few weeks about the rollout of Obamacare and what a mess it was.

And they’re just in an inferior position now.

SUSAN PAGE: There’s also two Republican parties now, right?

The party is really split in half. And, meanwhile, the Democrats are now newly reunited. The Democrats had some fractures going on over drones and over the NSA disclosures and some unhappiness with President Obama. Boy, they are together now, and that is a real strength for a party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, in other words, it’s not just the Republicans are hurt; you think the Democrats are strengthened as a result?


SUSAN PAGE: Yes. I think that’s right.

STUART ROTHENBERG: A month ago, we were talking about Syria and the president’s problems in making decision there. And all that stuff is wiped away.

I think Susan is exactly right. The Democrats are now energized and unified, and the Republicans are divided.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So who gets the credit for this? I mean, is this — was this understood to be a White House strategy that paid off? Is that what we’re talking about, Susan?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, the White House had a strategy that was good, that worked out. I think Senator Reid and Senator McConnell deserve a lot of credit.

And, you know, I would give credit to women in the Senate. We have had — we have only 20 women in the Senate, but, still, it’s a record, 20 of the 100. And it was the women in the Senate, starting with Susan Collins of Maine, who pushed for a bipartisan compromise. And that is something that we know from academic studies that women legislators are more likely to seek compromise, to be willing to talk across party aisles, not every woman officeholder, but as a group, women tend to be more willing to do that. And you definitely saw that in play in this fight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How about Speaker Boehner, Stu? Where does he stand coming out of this?

STUART ROTHENBERG: I think he’s going to emerge — not that he’s undamaged, but he is unchallenged. He is unchallenged.

What we’re hearing from conservatives, is that they’re saying, well, John Boehner gave us the chance to fight this, and he played along with us, he led the fight, and we don’t blame him. So I don’t think there’s going to be a challenge to him. There aren’t a lot of Republicans in the conference who want somebody else. So I think he’s going to — I think he’s going to survive OK. I think Mitch McConnell is the big question mark.

SUSAN PAGE: Well, that’s because of the difference between the politics back home in Kentucky, where he’s got a challenger in a primary, and a significant challenger in the general election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much does this affect other issues? We’re already hearing from the president that he wants to push immigration reform once this is done.

SUSAN PAGE: After the last shutdown in 1996, I was covering the White House, and it was a big opportunity for Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. They got big legislation through in 1996 after a shutdown where the president was empowered.

But it doesn’t feel that way to me with this one. For one thing, in the 1996 shutdown, there was a lot of communication between Newt Gingrich and President Clinton. There was a certain — even though they battled, there was a certain relationship of trust.

You don’t see any of that now. But it’s possible. I suppose it’s possible that this opens the door to more compromise. I just don’t think it’s likely.


STUART ROTHENBERG: I can’t imagine House Republicans going along with anything the president offers at the moment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Despite the weakness you just described?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes. I mean, they have one thing. They can continue to vote no. That’s the one thing that they have going for them.

And if it’s something that the president wants, I think they will be inclined to oppose it, unless he reaches out to them. And they really feel — I mean, rightly or wrongly, they feel that he has not reached out to them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On that note, we are glad the two of you for being here.

Stu Rothenberg, Susan Page, thank you.