Eight years ago, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz had a provocative idea. The Texan, just nine months into his congressional career, believed he and his party could derail implementation of the Affordable Care Act by shutting down the federal government.
It was not a good plan, and it never had any realistic chance of success, but GOP lawmakers embraced it anyway and shut down federal operations for about two weeks. Eventually, Republicans realized that Cruz's strategy didn't really make any sense, and the party ended the crisis.
The senator's chief of staff at the time was Chip Roy, who "served as the conductor behind the scenes," helping steer Cruz's doomed gambit.
Eight years later, Roy is now an elected member of the U.S. House, where he apparently wants to borrow a page from his 2013 playbook. Here's the message the Texas congressman pushed on Fox News this morning:
"Congress needs to man-up, stand up, and fight for the American people — and that means, don't fund a government that is tyrannically forcing people to get a vaccine that they don't want to get."
First, there's nothing "tyrannical" about the Biden administration's vaccine policy. Second, people who don't want to get the free, safe, and effective vaccine can instead get regular testing.
But it was Roy's rhetoric about not funding the government that mattered most.
In case this isn't obvious, Congress is facing a shutdown deadline this week: Without a stopgap spending measure by Friday night — roughly 60 hours from right now — there will be the latest in a series of Republican-imposed shutdowns. Up until very recently, the assumption has been that members will avert a crisis; the only disagreement was over how long the stopgap measure would last.
But Roy's rhetoric signaled a new partisan strategy. Politico reported this morning:
Conservatives on both sides of the Capitol are privately plotting to force a government shutdown Friday in an effort to defund the Biden administration's vaccine mandate on the private sector.... Capitalizing on a last-minute scramble to fund the government, a group of Senate conservatives is planning to object to quick consideration of a stopgap measure to extend funding into early 2022 unless Democratic leaders agree to deny money to enforce the mandate. Because of the tight schedule — and Senate rules that require unanimous consent to move quickly — the senators believe they'll be able to drag out the process well past midnight Friday, when funding officially expires.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah acknowledged the plan, telling Politico, "I'm sure we would all like to simplify the process for resolving the [continuing resolution], but I can't facilitate that without addressing the vaccine mandates." Roy added that Lee and allied senators have "leverage."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hinted yesterday that there may be a problem. "To avoid a needless shutdown, Republicans will have to cooperate and approve the government funding legislation without delay," the New York Democrat told reporters. "If Republicans choose obstruction, there will be a shutdown entirely because of their own dysfunction."
At this point, it's difficult to say exactly how many GOP senators are prepared to go along with this scheme, and the legislative arithmetic matters: Passing a temporary spending measure will require 60 votes in the upper chamber, which means at least 10 Senate Republicans would need to side with the Democratic majority on a clean stopgap bill (known as a "continuing resolution" or "CR").
Will those votes be there before Friday's deadline? Watch this space.