Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is under fire from both Democrats and tea party conservatives for her votes in recent weeks, said there were valuable lessons learned or relearned from the government shutdown.
Chief among them, the Eastern Washington Republican said Thursday, is that politics is the “art of the possible,” but things are possible only if people keep talking.
“I think the biggest lesson is the importance of keeping the lines of communication open, of going to the table, of having that give and take,” she said less than 24 hours after President Barack Obama signed legislation to reopen the federal government and raise the federal debt limit.
After holding firm for weeks on getting some changes to the Affordable Care Act in exchange for funding the federal government and raising the federal debt limit, McMorris Rodgers was among the House Republicans who voted Wednesday to reopen the government and extend the debt.
“I do think there were some unrealistic expectations about what could be accomplished by a majority in just one house,” she said.
Whether she’ll face a stronger-than-normal Democratic opponent or a viable challenge from the right in 2014 is unclear.
But her vote was blasted by Americans for Limited Government, a libertarian-leaning group. “The House Republicans chose not to continue fighting. They decided to give away everything,” said Robert Romano, a spokesman for group. “For those who voted for the continuing resolution, they may be facing a primary challenge.”
Spokane County Republican Chairman Ben Oakley said he wouldn’t be surprised if McMorris Rodgers draws an opponent from the far right, as she has in almost every election. Randall Yearout, who ran previously as a Constitutional Party candidate but last year as a Republican, picked up only 8 percent of the vote by challenging her from the right, he said.
The local party may be factionalized by former Libertarians, evangelicals, tea party members and other groups, Oakley said, but McMorris Rodgers is on good terms with most groups. “I don’t think anyone can seriously challenge her,” he said.
A few weeks ago, local Democrats had few prospects for a 2014 candidate to take on a five-term incumbent. That began to change with the government shutdown, Spokane County Chairman Jim CastroLang said. McMorris Rodgers, as a member of House Republican leadership, was often front and center in discussing GOP plans or defending their strategy.
“We’re seeing a new energy happening here,” he said. “The dynamics are changing quickly. There’s a lot more interest.”
One person considering a run is Dan Morrissey, a former dean of Gonzaga Law School who now teaches corporate law. Morrissey explored a run in 2012 but eventually stepped aside in favor of Rich Cowan, a former executive with North by Northwest, a film, video and web production company.
Morrissey is looking at 2014, in part because he contends the way McMorris Rodgers and House Republicans handled the shutdown and debt ceiling was irresponsible. But he’d also challenge her on continuing economic problems in Eastern Washington’s 5th District.
“This might be the time when people want a real change,” Morrissey said.
McMorris Rodgers said it’s too early to predict what kind of challengers she’ll face or how big a factor the last few weeks will be in next fall’s campaign. Some polls say a majority of people think no one in Congress should be re-elected, she said.
A more important factor may be what happens in the next three months as members of the House and Senate try to find compromises on two very different budgets. In charge of the conference committee are Washington Democrat Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, House Budget chairman. McMorris Rodgers knows them both and is optimistic they can lead efforts to hammer out a budget.
Congress faces another deadline in January to keep the federal government running and one in February to continue its borrowing authority. The debt ceiling deadline may continue to play into negotiations about reducing spending and the nation’s deficits, McMorris Rodgers said, because “it seems to be the only time that Congress is forced to make the tough decisions.”
But Congress should not refuse to raise the ceiling and risk default on its obligations, she said: “I think that would be a wrong move.”