Government By Drama

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We’ve been covering different dimensions of this story. But I wanted to highlight what now seems to be the likely government shutdown this fall. We’ve had shutdowns before and by the standards of recent Republican high-wire acts and hostage taking events they’re relatively minor affairs. What is notable about this round of it is that there isn’t really any big budgetary impasse it’s over. We did that during the debt ceiling drama back in May. At some level it’s House Republicans wanting to re-litigate the fight they believe — reasonably enough — that they lost. But even that doesn’t capture the dimensions of it because that agreement has terms that apply to this kind of situation. Kevin McCarthy made them release their hostage.

The tell is in what House Republicans and really the House Freedom Caucus is demanding. Yes, they’re demanding more cuts they know they’re not going to get (and which House Republicans already agreed they’re not getting). They are also now demanding de facto control of the Justice Department and an end to the prosecutions of Donald Trump (“unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department”) and the Department of Defense (because of “the Left’s cancerous woke policies”). Of course, they’re never going to get these things. It’s not even totally clear it would be constitutional for them to.

The issue is really to keep the federal government locked in drama even after this tiny minority of the House has lost the fight at hand. The upping the ante is a sign of weakness rather than strength since they effectively have no more cudgel to wield against the White House or the Democrats or the Senate. The cudgel is just a messaging exercising — weaponization of the Justice Department. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t want a shutdown but his comments make it clear that if that’s what Republicans want well, fine … go ahead. And that’s not much of a cudgel. At heart this is a battle within the Republican Party, the on-going revolt of the Republican far right against its nominal leadership.

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