The Slatest

House Republican Tries, Fails to Put Out the “Don’t Know” Mess He Made

House Republican Policy Committee member Rep. Marlin Stutzman is trying to walk back his now-viral comment about his party’s demands

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Marlin Stutzman stepped in it yesterday when he seemingly summed up the absurdity of the current shutdown in one short quote he gave to the Washington Examiner: “We’re not going to be disrespected,” the Indiana Republican said of his party’s negotiating strategy. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

That last part—I don’t know what that even is—was just about the worst thing a lawmaker could say during a shutdown fight that has now become largely about which party can sell the American public on the idea that they’re the only responsible adults in Washington. It was greeted with headlines ranging from: “Congressman Stutzman: He Has No Idea What the GOP Wants” (Time) to “Why the shutdown will be so hard to end, in one perfect quote” (WaPo).


On Thursday, Stutzman tried to clean up the mess with a canned statement that did little to articulate the specifics of what the Republicans say they want, via TPM:

“Yesterday, I carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate and Speaker Boehner’s work on behalf of the American people,” Stutzman said in a statement. “Despite my remarks it’s clear that the American people want both parties to come to the table to reopen the government, tackle this nation’s debt crisis, and stop ObamaCare’s pain.”

Of course, that won’t unring the “don’t know” bell.  Stutzman’s remarks didn’t only go viral, it also provided an easy target for President Obama, who referenced it while repeatedly blasting Republican “extremists” during a speech he gave on Thursday. “You have already gotten the opportunity to serve the American people. There’s no higher honor than that,” Obama said at an event in Maryland. “You’ve already gotten the opportunity to help businesses like this one. Workers like these. So the American people aren’t in the mood to give you a goody bag to go with it. What you get is our intelligence professionals being back on the job. What you get is our medical researchers back on the job. What you get are little kids back in the Head Start.”

Even if we set Stutzman’s inelegant quote aside, we don’t have to look that hard for other examples of conservative lawmakers making it clear that the real goal of the shutdown was never to stop Obamacare. As my colleague Will Saletan explained this morning, Republicans have quietly begun to admit that they did it, and will keep doing it, to gain leverage in the coming fight over the debt ceiling.

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Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the government shutdown.