It turns out the drama of the first government shutdown since 2013 was short-lived. For those not hopelessly addicted to political Twitter – which is to say most Americans – nothing much seem to really happen at all.
Still, there is political fallout from the budget fight, and that means winners and losers. Here’s my quick take…
Winner: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
McConnell plays the long game. When the GOP Senate leader called Democrats’ bluff and brought the motion to proceed on the CR to the floor Friday, he knew the vote would fail. But, he also knew Democrats not running for president would be in the uncomfortable position of allowing the government to shutdown and children’s healthcare to lapse – all in the name of securing an ambiguous goal of protecting Dreamers. McConnell held firm, wrangled wayward senators from his own party back into the herd, and waited for Democrats to crack. Winner winner, Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner.
Loser: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Schumer really took it on the chin this week. Whether he was forced to take such an untenable position by the far-left forces within the Democratic Party or he simply misjudged the playing field, it was a major blunder for the minority leader. Liberal groups are livid. Moderate Democrats are taking meetings with President Trump. Republicans are more emboldened than they’ve been since the 2016 election. You gotta know when to fold ’em.
Winner: Rank-and-file House Republicans
Republicans never win government shutdowns. Why? Because Republicans are terrible about sticking together and staying on message when the going gets tough. This time was different, partly because House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Leadership somehow convinced the rank-and-file Conference membership to go along with a good plan: fund the government with no strings attached and offer up a CHIP funding deal no one could honestly argue with.
House Republicans were confident and consistent, a departure from the past when half wanted to capitulate to Democrats and the other half wanted to tilt at windmills. Heaven only knows what this group could accomplish if this becomes a trend.
Loser: House Freedom Caucus
It went largely unnoticed in the tick-tock of the shutdown countdown, but the far-right faction known as the House Freedom Caucus got rolled by leadership and looked pretty silly in the process. As Ryan and McConnell were negotiating a high-stakes deal with their Democratic counterparts, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows couldn’t resist inserting himself into the process to exact some demands. But, similar to Schumer’s demands on immigration, the Freedom Caucus’ agenda of boosting military spending, voting on a conservative immigration bill, and declassifying a controversial intelligence report were already part of the package. All they did was slow down the process, unnecessarily send mixed messages to the White House, and irritate their colleagues in the Republican Conference.
Winner: U.S. Senator Doug Jones
Jones had a big decision to make: keep his very public and frequent campaign promises on bipartisanship and CHIP, or toe the line for the Democratic leadership. Jones chose the former and looked good in the process. Some in the liberal base may be pretty disappointed with Jones. After all, his vote with Republicans and a handful of red-state Democrats helped undermine the shutdown message. I’m sure it also dismays many Democrats to see Jones meeting with President Trump in the wake of the vote. But, to many in the middle and on the right, Jones came out a winner.
Winner: Congressman Bradley Byrne
Byrne took a hanging slider from House Democrats and knocked it out of the park. Speaking on the House Floor in support of avoiding the shutdown, Byrne brought a large poster featuring a photo and quotes from Sen. Chuck Schumer: “A [government shutdown] is the politics of idiocy, of confrontation, of paralysis.”
Democrats objected, saying the poster violated a House rule against impugning the integrity of other Members of Congress. Whether that was true or not, all the Democrats’ objection did was highlight the hypocrisy of Schumer’s words even more. Byrne played the situation well, earning some media and the most popular tweet of his career, according to his office.
Loser: Congresswoman Terri Sewell
This has nothing to do with Congresswoman Sewell herself, and everything to do with the new status quo within the Alabama delegation. Sewell is used to being the only one to vote out of step with her colleagues in the Alabama delegation. As the delegation’s lone Democrat Congress for seven years, that came with the territory – and mostly with political benefits for Sewell. But, with the entrance of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones onto the scene, things are now more complicated. Jones siding with the Republicans to keep the government open and fund CHIP left Sewell on an island politically.
It should be noted that Sewell ended up voting FOR the CR to reopen the government when it came back from the Senate, perhaps evidence of this changing dynamic within in the Alabama Delegation.
Somewhat lost in the discussion over the shutdown is the fact that the Children’s Health Insurance Program received the longest extension in its history – six years. That’s good news for families who depend on CHIP-funded programs – like Alabama’s ALL Kids – for their children’s health care.
Loser: the People of the United States of America
It may be fun for political observers to point out the various political wins or losses for this faction or that. But, when institutions break down to the point where we can’t even fund the government, nobody really wins. The biggest losers are the American people, and I promise you most voters won’t be assigning points to anyone in the wake of this debacle.