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Defeat Isn't Easy For Conservative Republicans To Admit


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

For weeks, Republican and Democratic lawmakers insisted there were votes to raise the debt ceiling and reopen government, if only speaker John Boehner would allow a vote. Last night, he did. The measure easily passed, having already received an overwhelming vote in the Senate. President Obama signed the measure into law shortly after midnight. It was an anti-climatic ending to a drama that put hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job and alarmed financial leaders around the world. Defeat was not easy for some conservative Republicans to accept.

NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Democrats couldn't help but point out that in the end, they landed exactly where they started. All along what they wanted was to fund the government and to pay the country's bills. They got both. Chuck Schumer of New York says it's just too bad it took weeks of infighting and mounting resentment around the country.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: If there's a silver lining in this gray cloud, it is that the politics - the reckless politics of brinksmanship - has reached its peak.

CHANG: The law will fund the government through January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th. Budget negotiators from both the House and Senate will have to submit a plan about entitlement cuts and tax reform by December 13th.

There were two things for Republicans to take credit for: First, there was language reinforcing a requirement to verify the income of anybody getting subsidies under the healthcare law. Second was more subtle. Across-the-board spending cuts that started this year stay in effect.

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona says, now that is something Republicans should be happy about.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE: That is significant - discretionary cuts. And if we can continue that, that provides leverage for mandatory cuts next year or two.

CHANG: But by mid-afternoon Wednesday, several hours before the final votes, many House Republicans were already in post-mortem mode, reflecting on the grand plan to defund Obamacare that went nowhere. For some, like Congressman Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, what happened was easy to admit: The other side won. That's something even his 13-year-old triplets would understand.

REPRESENTATIVE MICK MULVANEY: I'm going to go home and tell my kids that I tried my best for the right reasons. I lost. So it's not the last time - or the first.

CHANG: But while some Republicans were ready to step up and concede defeat, there were those determined to frame the past few weeks as a triumph. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas - the public face of the government shutdown strategy - rushed to the hallway microphones just as the leader of his party was speaking inside the Senate chamber. Cruz said his fight had actually achieved something quite momentous.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: We saw the House of Representatives take a courageous stand listening to the American people, that everyone in official Washington, just weeks earlier, said would never happen. That was a remarkable victory.

REPRESENTATIVE JUSTIN AMASH: Yeah, we showed the American people that we're willing to stand up and fight for American principles.

CHANG: House Republican Justin Amash of Michigan joined forces with Cruz early on.

AMASH: And it proved to everyone that the president is completely unwilling to negotiate.

CHANG: And by showing the world the true colors of President Obama, Amash says Republicans scored a victory. But beyond the question of who won lies a bigger question - what happens next?

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Now the question is what will the party do? What will we learn from this, if anything?

CHANG: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is asking a question a lot of Republicans are echoing: What happens in January when government funding runs out again? Is it all about Obamacare once more?

SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE: If they're saying that the defunding issue is going to come up in three months again, then they've learned nothing from this.

CHANG: Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire had challenged Cruz for answers since the shutdown began.

AYOTTE: You know, we've been asking from the beginning what's the end game. How does this end? How do you achieve what you're purporting to achieve on defunding Obamacare? And I never got an answer to that.

CHANG: The nation did get one answer last night, when a majority of Senate Republicans and more than a third of House Republicans voted for a bill that left the president's healthcare law intact.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.