Why the “20 Republicans Ready to Vote for a Clean CR” Number Is Meaningless

For a few days now, the Huffington Post and the Washington Post have been keeping a sort of whip count. They track the Republicans, mostly from swing seats, some with generally moderate inclinations, who say they can vote for a “clean CR” that doesn’t touch Obamacare. They list them in stories with titles like “House Now Has The Votes To End Government Shutdown, But It Won’t.”

But the story’s not quite true. The 20-odd Republicans have made sure of that. On Wednesday night, House Democrats attempted to use the vote on the previous question to pre-empt votes on “mini-CRs” and bring up a clean bill. Every single Republican voted no—including the “clean” team.

So: New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo has been quoted saying he’d back “whatever gets a successful conclusion,” including a clean continuing resolution. Today, when I asked why he voted against the Democrats’ “previous question” gambit, he shook his head and told me to “get your rules straight—that was appealing the ruling of the chair.” Were there enough votes for a clean CR? “I’m not the one to ask,” he said.

Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell, who has been cited many, many times as a Republican willing to bend, agreed with LoBiondo on procedure. “There really was a genuine debate about the rule, and whether the rule itself was germane,” he said. “It wasn’t a motion to recommit. I wouldn’t violate what I thought were the rules of the House to advance an agenda.”

So, what would it take to get to a clean CR? “Look, there’s a pretty animated spirit in favor of the direction we’re taking right now as a conference,” said Rigell. “For those of us who believe a better path is warranted, at present—now, things, as you know, can change, and there was a slight recognition from leadership that something’s gotta give. But my call for a clean CR to get us moving does not at all diminish what a mistake it is for the administration to not negotiate.”

Put simply, the moderates don’t have the clout or organizing capacity to rebel; the media is over-reading the quotes from members who say they’re for a “clean CR”; and the rebels, such as they are, don’t think the Democrats are going to be there to provide the other 190-odd votes they need to win. They’re more comfortable battering the conservatives whom they blame for the crisis.

“You have to call Cruz,” said California Rep. Devin Nunes, who’s been calling for a clean CR for days, when a reporter asked him about the party’s next moves. “I’m not even joking about that. He’s the one that set up the strategy. He’s the one that got us into this mess.”

I asked Nunes why he opposed the Democrats on Wednesday. “There’s not going to be a clean CR vote right now,” he said. “There’s not the votes for it.”

Another reporter followed up about Cruz—and Nunes was back in his comfort zone.

“When you spend a lot of money on television,” he said, “and you go after the Republican base, and you tell them you can get rid of Obamacare, people believe it.”