House Republicans: ‘We Lost’

Despite defeat, Republican rank and file largely support Boehner. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Despite defeat, Republican rank and file largely support Boehner. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 16, 2013 at 6:00pm

House Republicans emerged from an all-hands meeting Wednesday afternoon waving the white flag.

After a two-and-a-half-week government shutdown and on the brink of the deadline to raise the debt ceiling, the GOP rank and file said leadership was prepared to bring up the Senate-crafted compromise bill that largely skimps on the Obamacare concessions for which they fought.

The mood was somber in the basement of the Capitol as lawmakers trickled out of the conference room, readily sharing with reporters their sense of resignation. Even if Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, loses votes from the majority of his majority on the Senate deal, nearly all House Democrats are expected to vote in favor, which would ensure the package’s victory.

Some of the starkest pronouncements of defeat came from committee chairmen.

“It’s better to win than it is to lose,” said Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan. “We lost.”

“Sure, there are regrets,” agreed Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky said when asked to reflect on the developments of the past month. “But the [Senate] bill does look a lot like the resolution I introduced three weeks ago.”

Some Republicans were even writing the epitaph on the tombstone of their struggle to defund the president’s health law 24 hours earlier. On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas wondered aloud whether his party might have been better off going along with leadership’s original plan: to force the Senate to take an up-or-down vote on repealing Obamacare but otherwise advance a “clean” continuing resolution.

“At the end of this process,” Womack said, “we may end up to the left of that.

“I don’t think anyone wanted to be in the spot we’re in right now.”

For many members on Wednesday afternoon, emotions of defeat were tempered with determination for future victories. Many House Republicans said they were ready to move on.

“I believe that anytime that you stand and fight on principle and you fight for what your voters sent you to fight for, why would you have regrets?” said Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona. “I have no regrets on fighting the fight. Obviously I wish there would have been a different outcome.

“It’s not over,” Salmon said. “It’s Round One.”

“[Boehner] said he was ready to fight on,” said Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, characterizing the speaker’s comments at the Wednesday conference meeting. “We gotta get rid of Obamacare.”

Rep. Peter T. King of New York, who has for nearly the entirety of the government shutdown been calling for a vote on a clean CR, had a different takeaway from the events of the past 15 days: The blame lies in the hands of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“I think it’s important for Republican leaders around the country to speak out against him and neutralize him, otherwise he’ll start to say the same nonsense again in December or January,” King said of Cruz. “He’s the guy that caused this, he’s the guy that caused us defeat, he’s the guy who was a fraud because he never had a strategy to begin with. If we were to let him do it again, it’s our fault.”

King said he had no criticism of Boehner and his lieutenants, who were faced with a difficult task of leading a volatile GOP conference through uncharted political terrain. Even those Republicans who are likely to vote against the Senate bill on Wednesday evening have said they don’t feel compelled to mount an insurrection against their speaker for ultimately deciding not to stand firm against Obamacare.

“I’m very proud of our leadership,” said loyal Boehner ally Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “We gave ’em a hell of a fight … we went into the fight together, hopefully we’ll leave the fight together.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida also walked out of the meeting a happy warrior.

“The purpose of this tactic was because we thought we could get Democrats in the Senate to go along,” Diaz-Balart said, “and that unfortunately didn’t work. Tomorrow’s another day.”