Republican fight on U.S. shutdown shows simmering civil war
It's unfair to place all of the blame for the fight at the feet of Republicans who come of the party's tea party wing, Russo said. If Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid "look intransigent, they will be the losers," he said. "There is plenty of room for compromise, but the Democrats and the president have shown no willingness to compromise."
Russo said tea party Republicans will also want a fight over the nation's borrowing limit, which the Treasury says will be exhausted no later than Oct. 17. If Congress doesn't lift the cap, the nation will default on its debts.
"The American public understands you have to pay the bills you run up," he said. "I also think it is worthy of a fight and I think there is going to be one."
The congressional fight is providing new energy to the movement, Russo said. "People are fired up that some people are willing to stand up," he said.
Several Republican strategists have privately expressed outrage in recent weeks at the lengths to which some of their own party's activists are willing to go to stoke shutdown fervor, complaining that they are spending more time and money targeting their party colleagues while giving Democrats a pass. The Republicans requested anonymity because they didn't want to disparage party allies publicly.
Among the targets of their complaints are the Heritage Foundation, helmed by former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., which has been leaning on Republicans to tie keeping the government open to defunding the health-care law, and the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee DeMint founded that backs Republican primary candidates.
The fund released a television advertisement Sept. 5 saying Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is "refusing to lead on defunding Obamacare," and last week accused him and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the No. 2 leader, of "the ultimate betrayal" for allowing a government-funding bill to go forward.
It's also running radio ads against Republican senators in a handful of states pressuring them to oppose funding the health-care law. While the group has yet to endorse any Senate Republican primary candidates, both McConnell and Cornyn are facing re-election next year, and the Kentuckian has drawn a Tea Party-backed Republican rival, businessman Matt Bevin.
Avoiding such primary challenges is driving much of the strife, said Dan Schnur, the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics director at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.
"There are 30 or 40 House rebels who all know there is no way they could ever lose a general-election campaign, no matter how hard they tried, and the only way they don't get to stay in Congress is if they face a more conservative primary challenger," Schnur, an aide in Sen. John McCain's, R-Ariz., 2000 presidential campaign, said in an interview.
Of the 232 Republicans in the House, 215 represent districts that voted for Republican nominee Mitt Romney over Obama. The midterm election is likely to be more pro-Republican than the 2012 election, when Obama's national campaign was driving turnout. That creates few political incentives for compromise, as most of their districts were anti-Obama in 2012 and probably will be again in 2014.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio has less pressure to exert on members than outside groups urging confrontation, Schnur added. "Boehner can take away a committee assignment — these groups can take away their jobs," Schnur said.
Keith Appell, a consultant whose clients include tea party- aligned groups, said "if they cave again they're looking at multiple primaries in the spring and their base sitting home in the fall, in a base election. Caving is not an option."
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said he's frustrated that his party can't advocate vigorously without being accused of "wanting to eviscerate and destroy all of government." Still, the political risks prompted him to initially back a different strategy for fighting the health-care law and funding the government.
"Harry Reid will do everything he possibly can to precipitate a shutdown because, no matter what happens, Republicans will be blamed," he said of the Senate majority leader, a Nevada Democrat. "Unfortunately, I think that's partly of our own doing. We've allowed the Democrats to chase us with a government shutdown much like a little boy on the playground chases a little girl with a spider."
_ With assistance from John McCormick in Chicago and Greg Giroux and Michael Tackett in Washington.
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