President Obama on Tuesday laid the blame for the government shutdown entirely on congressional Republicans, rejecting any responsibility for the stalemate and calling it “a Republican shutdown” caused by spite over Obamacare.
Although polls fault both sides for the standoff, the White House insisted Tuesday that Mr. Obama was blameless for Washington’s dysfunction. The president gave no outward signs that he planned to negotiate with Republican lawmakers anytime soon to seek an end to the budget impasse.
Instead, the president scheduled an appearance Thursday at a construction company in the District to urge Congress to end the shutdown and to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
While large swaths of the federal government were shut down, aides said Mr. Obama still plans to depart on Air Force One this weekend for a long-scheduled weeklong trip to Asia.
More than 12 hours after the government shut down for the first time since 1996, Mr. Obama made a public appearance in the White House Rose Garden, surrounding himself with people who officials said will benefit from his health care initiative. He criticized tea party Republicans in the House for what he said was their willingness to risk an economic meltdown to get their way.
“They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans,” Mr. Obama said. “In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he has received two brief phone calls from Mr. Obama in the past two weeks and that the president has been unwilling to negotiate.
“For years, the president has said that in a divided government, no one gets 100 percent of what they want. But when will his words match his actions?” Mr. Boehner wrote in an op-ed in USA Today.
On Capitol Hill, House and Senate leaders remain far apart on a deal to reopen parts of the federal government that shut down at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, when the fiscal year ended.
Republicans fire back
Mr. Obama came under fire from Republicans in Washington and across the nation for what his critics call a lack of leadership.
“What is especially disappointing to me is the unwillingness of the president and Senate Democrats to make a reasonable effort to resolve the real differences of opinion that exist here. … [Mr. Obama] seems to be able to talk with the Iranian rulers, but not the congressional leaders,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, said in remarks on the chamber floor Tuesday. “This stubbornness in the face of reasonableness will not be good for our country.”
Similar sentiments have come from political pundits, Republican governors across the U.S. and others. By staking out such a firm position, analysts say, and essentially drawing another “red line” on the domestic issues of spending and health care, Mr. Obama is in a weaker political position than Mr. Boehner and his caucus.
“The president has put himself into a corner because he has said he is not going to negotiate. … If he then decides to negotiate, the question becomes, ‘How much is rhetoric worth?’” said Lara Brown, director of the political management program at George Washington University. “Will the public shaming [of Republicans] be enough? My sense is that it won’t. … Somebody has to be perceived to cave.”
No ‘reason’ to happen