It's All Politics
5:05 pm
Wed October 2, 2013

GOP Establishment Grapples With A Tea Party That Won't Budge

Originally published on Wed October 2, 2013 6:56 pm

The old line in Washington is that the "establishment" controls everything.

But the fights that have resulted in the government shutdown have turned that cliche upside down.

This time, it's the Tea Party and its allies in Congress calling the shots. The "establishment" — on Capitol Hill and in the business community — has so far been on the outs.

You can hear the frustration in the voice of 11-term Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., as he runs a gantlet of reporters at the Capitol.

"I'm just more concerned about there not being a clean CR," he says amid the hubbub.

The "clean CR" he's referring to would be a continuing resolution to fund the government that isn't attached to defunding or delaying the Affordable Care Act.

That's a basic establishment kind of approach — and it might actually win a majority of both parties in the House if it were to actually come up for a vote.

But it hasn't. What do King's constituents think about that?

"They think we're crazy," he says.

And such is life for a Republican in Congress who is not one of about 30 hard-core conservatives and Tea Party members who see the shutdown as a reasonable and necessary way to fight the Affordable Care Act.

On the same page as King is Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, a fiscal conservative with a more moderate record on social issues. Dent is trying to build a coalition dedicated to governing and meeting fiscal obligations.

"If there are a couple dozen people ... who just don't have that same sense of governance ... we are going to have to find ways to work around them," he says. "And I'm going to continue to try to do what we can to get out of this shutdown situation and work with whoever is going to be a willing partner, Republican or Democrat."

It's not just the congressional establishment that's frustrated.

"I think our CEOs are in the same position — just look at this and are aghast at the behavior," says John Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan who now heads the Business Roundtable, which is made up of the CEOs of the nation's largest companies. "Sit down and work it out. Stop holding press conferences. Talk to each other and get a deal."

But Tea Party groups level some of their strongest rhetoric at big business as the beneficiaries of bailouts and government favors.

So does Engler think the Business Roundtable's pleas are being heard by those leading this revolt against the establishment?

"I'm not sure they care what anybody has to say," he says.

They certainly are ignoring national polls that show the government shutdown — and linking it to Obamacare — to be very unpopular.

But, says former GOP Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, they do care about what one group thinks: their most conservative constituents. He notes that the vast majority of those members holding House Speaker John Boehner's feet to the fire are from deep-red Republican districts. That's a result of congressional redistricting that was dominated by GOP-controlled state legislatures.

"They are immune to public opinion, but they are held hostage by Republican opinion," Davis says. "And as long as Republicans continue to support this, they don't really have any political pressure to move."

Davis says there will only be movement when all sides feel enough pain. Right now, he says, the Tea Party caucus thinks it's winning. So do Democrats — which means that those who really want nothing more than a resolution will likely continue to struggle to be heard.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Earlier this afternoon, President Obama met with business leaders, members of the Financial Services Forum, about the government shutdown and the fast approaching battle over raising the debt ceiling. Lloyd Blankfein, chairman of Goldman Sachs, talked to reporters outside the White House afterward.

LLOYD BLANKFEIN: There's precedent for a government shutdown. There's no precedent for a default. We're the most important economy in the world. We're the reserve currency of the world. Payments have to go out to people. If money doesn't flow in, then money doesn't flow out, so we really haven't seen this before and I'm not anxious to be a part of the process that witnesses it.

BLOCK: A message like that from the business community once carried a lot of clout in Washington, especially among Republicans. No so this time. In the fight that's shut down the government, establishment leaders like Blankfein have so far been sidelined. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: You can hear the frustration in the voice of 11-term New York congressman Peter King, as he runs a gauntlet of reporters at the Capitol.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING: I'm just more concerned about there not being a clean CR.

GONYEA: A clean CR. A clean continuing resolution to fund the government without the defunding or delaying of the healthcare law attached. That's a basic establishment kind of approach and it might actually win a majority of both parties in the House were it to come up for a vote. But it hasn't. Ask King what his constituents think about that?

KING: They think we're crazy.

GONYEA: And such is life for a Republican in Congress who's not a member of that core of about 30 hardcore conservatives and Tea Party members who see the shutdown as a reasonable and necessary way to fight Obamacare. On the same page as King is Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent, a fiscal conservative with a more moderate record on social issues. Dent is trying to build a coalition dedicated to governing and meeting fiscal obligations.

REPRESENTATIVE CHARLIE DENT: If there are a couple dozen people or two or three dozen people who just don't have that same sense of governance, then we are going to have to find ways to work around them. And I'm going to continue to try to do what we can to get out of this shutdown situation and work with whoever is going to be a willing partner, Republican or Democrat.

GONYEA: It's not just the congressional establishment that's frustrated. John Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan, now heads the Business Roundtable, made up of the CEOs of the nation's largest companies.

JOHN ENGLER: I think our CEOs are in the same position, just look at this and are aghast at the behavior. Sit down and work it out. Stop holding press conferences, talk to each other and get a deal.

GONYEA: But Tea Party groups level some of their strongest rhetoric at big business as the beneficiaries of bailouts and government favors. So does Engler think the Business Roundtable's pleas are being heard by those leading this revolt against the establishment?

ENGLER: I'm not sure they care what anybody has to say.

GONYEA: They're certainly ignoring national polls that show the government shutdown and linking it to Obamacare to be very unpopular. But they do care about what one group thinks, says former GOP congressman Tom Davis - their most conservative constituents. He notes that the vast majority of those members holding Speaker Boehner's feet to the fire are from deep-red Republican districts.

That's a result of congressional redistricting that was dominated by GOP-controlled state legislatures.

TOM DAVIS: They are immune to public opinion, but they are held hostage by Republican opinion. And as long as Republicans continue to support this, they don't really have any political pressure to move.

GONYEA: Davis says there will only be movement when all sides feel enough pain. Right now, he says, the Tea Party caucus thinks it's winning. So do Democrats, which means those who really want nothing more than a resolution will likely continue to struggle to be heard. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.