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Internal GOP divisions exposed, might lead to compromise

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor speaks at a GOP event Thursday. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The stalemate over funding the government might appear at first glance to be a test of wills between two political parties.

But as we stretch into day four of the government shutdown, it’s clear this also is a battle between Republicans.

President Barack Obama has continued to place the blame squarely on House Republicans. He has been calling out Speaker John Boehner by name, and the White House said in a statement it’s the GOP that is at fault for the crisis, which forced the cancellation of the president’s planned trip to Asia.

The Morning Line Those statements are stirring up a lot of the drama, sure. The even bigger story is at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where there is a clash of epic proportion.

Consider the events from Thursday.

House Speaker John Boehner signaled in private meetings with his rank-and-file lawmakers that he will not allow the nation to default on its credit. Translation: a deal just might be in the works.

The Washington Post, the New York Times and others report that Boehner has been telling Republicans that given the current state of affairs within the party, any agreement needs to be able to win Democratic votes.

From Lori Montgomery and Ed O’Keefe’s front-page story:

One lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Boehner has even suggested that he may be willing to risk the fury of conservatives by relying on a majority of Democratic votes — and less than a majority of Republicans — to pass a debt-ceiling increase. Doing so would recall the vote tallies on the huge political defeats Boehner suffered earlier this year as he agreed to head off year-end tax increases and provide federal relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

And here’s Ashley Parker and Annie Lowrey in the Times:

Lawmakers said that in recent days, Mr. Boehner, who is under fierce attack from Democrats over his handling of the shutdown, has made clear that he is willing to use a combination of Republican and Democratic votes on the debt limit if need be.

Representative Leonard Lance of New Jersey, one of the moderate Republicans who met privately with Mr. Boehner on Wednesday, would not provide details of the meeting, but said, “The speaker of the House does not want to default on the debt on the United States, and I believe he believes in Congress as an institution, and I certainly believe he is working for the best interests of the American people.”

Putting forth such a bill, of course, would violate what has been dubbed the “Hastert Rule” after the last Republican Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois — that you’d only put a measure with a majority of the majority’s support up for a vote.

Incidentally, Hastert told the Daily Beast this week that the whole thing wasn’t really a hard and fast rule, and said it morphed out of a throwaway comment he made to a reporter about an immigration bill.

“Generally speaking, I needed to have a majority of my majority, at least half of my conference. This wasn’t a rule. I was speaking philosophically at the time,” the former speaker said. “The Hastert Rule is kind of a misnomer.”

The Post team also reports that a senior aide denied to them that Boehner has suggested such a strategy, and that other efforts are under way:

Meanwhile, senior policy aides were at work on last-ditch alternatives that could win the support of a majority of Republicans, such as increasing the $16.7 trillion debt limit for a short period — mere days or weeks — to force Democrats to the negotiating table.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin talked to elder statesmen in the party who openly fret the shutdown could have lasting political effects:

The complaints come from fervent opponents of the president’s health care overhaul, who say that the shutdown is overshadowing discussion of the problems associated with the law and ruining any chance for revising it.

“This is a huge distraction,” said Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee. “Instead of that being the conversation, we’re talking about the government shutdown, and the average citizen can’t help but say the Republican Congress isn’t helping.”

Martin also described a scene depicted earlier this week by Politico’s Manu Raju of Sen. Ted Cruz being excoriated by his Senate GOP colleagues during a private lunch. One Senator compared it to a “lynch mob.”

Then there’s the other side.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sent lawmakers a memo Thursday that Robert Costa of National Review Online posted here. It detailed the “Current State of Play, Strategy, and Goals” for House Republicans, and gave no indication there’s any willingness to budge among certain factions.

Cantor called it an “unprecedented place” and lambasted Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats, saying the shutdown is thanks to them “refusing to reach across the aisle in a divided government, a problem that has sadly been a hallmark of this Administration.”

He wrote:

And with the shutdown occurring, House Democrats, Senator Reid, and President Obama have gone a step farther, refusing to even agree to common sense items to keep funding for veterans benefits and allow the District of Columbia to spend its local funds despite the fact that in the last government shutdown the House and Senate on voice vote passed and President Clinton signed a bill to do the very same thing.

To make matters worse, the Obama Administration appears to be purposefully refusing to use the authority given to him by the Pay Our Military Act to bring civilian DOD employees back to work.

Cantor said the GOP’s strategy should be to press on with piecemeal funding bills until the Democrats “eventually agree to meaningful discussions that would allow us to ultimately resolve this impasse.”

And while Boehner might be trying to deal, Rebecca Berg of the Washington Examiner reports on a group made up of conservatives from each chamber who are working together. She writes:

House and Senate conservatives have formed a caucus all their own, separate and apart from moderate Republicans and their own GOP leaders. Their meetings, held in person and over the phone, have helped the relatively small band of lawmakers maintain a united front and outsize influence in a budget debate that led to a government shutdown.

At the meetings, they have shared information and ideas, developed strategy and discussed how to frame the fight over Obamacare as part of a larger budget debate. They met in person most recently last Monday evening, according to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa — just hours before the government shut down.

The private pow-wows have enabled conservative lawmakers to coalesce around some of the hallmark proposals of the government-funding fight, including the notion that they could fund government programs one at a time.

Then there’s this extraordinary exchange between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, before McConnell taped a television interview and was caught on video by a Kentucky station.

Paul told his fellow Kentucky Republican that he’d just wrapped up a CNN interview, and that he had repeated a talking point that the GOP is “willing to compromise.”

“I don’t think they poll tested ‘We won’t negotiate.’ I think it’s awful for them to say that over and over again,” Paul told McConnell, referring to Democrats.

McConnell, seemingly more aware he was in front of a camera, replied, “Yeah, me too,” and said he’d heard similar messages in a two-hour meeting with “them.”

“If we keep saying … we’re willing to compromise on this … I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re going to win this I think,” Paul said.

The private and now public moment says a lot about the relationship between the two men, frenemies of sorts with a long political history. But it also makes clear this is a war of words in addition to wills.

Gwen Ifill talked to GOP Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania about these internal dynamics on Thursday’s NewsHour. He said he feels he has an “obligation to govern,” one reason he supports a short-term continuing resolution that doesn’t have any policy strings attached.

“There’s a lot of blame to go around,” Dent said. “We are going to have to fund the government and we are going to have to fund it with as many Republican votes as we can.”

Watch the segment here or below:

A SCARE AT THE CAPITOL

The sound of gunfire punctuated a tense week on Capitol Hill, as the congressional campus locked down for about a half hour Thursday afternoon while police pursued a woman on a driving rampage near the Senate complex.

Miriam Carey, a Connecticut mother and dental hygienist, had rammed a traffic barrier near the White House with her car and led police on a chase to Capitol Hill, where she hit a police vehicle and officers shot and killed her. Two officers were injured and a child was pulled from her backseat. Carey was unarmed, according to law enforcement officials.

During this time, members, staff and visitors were asked to shelter in place inside the Capitol building, avoiding windows and doors and turning off the lights.

A number of lawmakers were witnesses to the scene.

From the AP:

Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania told reporters he was walking from the Capitol to the Senate Russell Office Building across the street when he noticed several police officers driving fast up Constitution Avenue on motorcycles. Within seconds, he says, he heard “three, four, five pops,” which he assumed were gunshots. He says police ordered him and nearby tourists to crouch behind a car for protection. In about two minutes, he said, the officers moved everyone into the Capitol.

And from the New York Times:

Representative Juan Vargas of California said he was headed to the Capitol when he heard several loud bangs, which he initially thought was a car backfiring.

“I heard ‘pop, pop,’ and honestly I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. Then, he said, he saw a police officer charging at him: “I was wondering what’s going on, why is this guy coming at me like a maniac?”

When the officer noticed that Mr. Vargas was wearing one of the red-and-gold pins that are issued to House members, he told him to remove it because he could be a target.

Roll Call’s Hannah Hess notes Capitol Police officers at work Thursday won’t know yet if they’ll receive paychecks during the government shutdown. For some perspective on past major security incidents at the Capitol, including the 1998 shooting that killed two officers, we recommend this column on Capitol police by Maureen Dowd.

Gwen Ifill talked to WNYC and Public Radio International’s Todd Zwillich about the lockdown. Watch here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • NPR’s Ari Shapiro examines the “frosty relationship” between Boehner and the president. And Politico’s John Bresnahan and Manu Raju write that actually, there’s bad blood between all four congressional leaders too.

  • Don’t get your hopes up for the September jobs report Friday morning. It’s suspended because of the shutdown.

  • Democratic Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis is running for governor, officially.

  • California will allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation Thursday.

  • House Majority PAC is running ads targeting vulnerable Republicans over the shutdown. Here’s an example of one of the spots.

  • Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., walked back his previous statement that it isn’t clear what the GOP wants out of a shutdown, clarifying his remarks after Mr. Obama and Democrats pounced. Stutzman said he had “carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate and Speaker Boehner’s work on behalf of the American people.” He added, “Despite my remarks it’s clear that the American people want both parties to come to the table to reopen the government, tackle this nation’s debt crisis, and stop ObamaCare’s pain.”

  • Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will appear on all five Sunday shows this weekend.

  • Rep. Robert Pittenger’s North Carolina home was broken into Thursday.

  • And on Wednesday night, Wisconsin GOP Rep. Sean Duffy was apparently assaulted on Capitol Hill in what his office described as a “minor altercation.”

  • Furloughed FEMA employees are reporting back to work to prepare for possible landfall of Tropical Storm Karen on the Gulf Coast. Here’s the National Hurricane Center’s public advisory on the storm.

  • The National Journal looks at female voters, and sees them drifting from the GOP.

  • Colorado Republicans Bernie Herpin and George Rivera took the oath of office Thursday to become state senators. The two unseated the Senate president and another Democratic state senator in a recall election last month. The election hinged on voters’ opposition to gun control measures.

  • A former attorney general took ill as he spoke at an annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce event.

  • Bill Eppridge, the photojournalist who was steps away from then-presidential candidate Robert Kennedy when he was shot by an assassin, died Thursday. Vaughn Wallace of Time’s Lightbox blog memorializes Eppridge’s 1968 images of Kennedy and other work.

  • If you didn’t write the “former boxer with the hardscrabble childhood,” you’re doing it wrong. These are the 10 essential points to make when you’re writing your Harry Reid profile, by Jon Ralston.

  • The Merchant Marine Academy’s Saturday football game is another victim of the government shutdown.The Merchant Marine is different than other military academies, whose games will be played, because the department that oversees it is transportation.

  • The Washington Post rounds up all the mountain lion jokes, noting, of course, that a big cat on the loose in the streets of D.C. is no laughing matter.

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