Kevin McCarthy's face over the Capitol building

Molly Butler / Media Matters

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“Pickett’s Charge”: Some right-wing media call out Republicans for trying to force a government shutdown

Conservative commentators admit Republicans will deserve the blame for a shutdown: “They seem to eagerly want it.”

As the Republican-led House faces a deadline of September 30 to fund the government and avoid a shutdown — and with some hardline Republicans recently rejecting a proposal to pass their own party’s proposed cuts and thus fund the government for just one more month — even some right-wing commentators openly agree a government shutdown would be bad idea for which the voting public would blame Republicans.

  • The federal government faces a September 30 shutdown deadline

    • The federal government will shut down unless Republicans agree to continued funding by September 30. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is struggling to find 218 votes to support must-pass appropriations legislation before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. If legislation is not authorized in time, the federal government may face a shutdown. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) “is not (yet) considering relying on Democrats to pass a stopgap spending bill and will work to find enough Republican support,” according to The Washington Post, because “seeking Democratic votes would likely lead to an immediate challenge to Kevin McCarthy’s speakership from GOP hard-liners.” [The Washington Post, 9/12/23]
    • A Republican-controlled House of Representatives has been responsible for the last five government shutdowns. In the last 30 years, a Republican-controlled House of Representatives has shut down the government twice under Democratic President Bill Clinton, once under Democratic President Barack Obama, and then twice under Republican President Donald Trump. The most-recent shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, began under a lame-duck Republican House that had lost in the 2018 midterms, and it ended only after spending provisions from the Democratic-controlled House were able to break a further deadlock in the Republican-controlled Senate. [, 1/25/19; The Hill, 1/25/19]
    • History suggests the public will more likely blame Republicans than Democrats for a shutdown. During government shutdowns under Clinton and Obama, polls showed that the public blamed the shutdown on congressional Republicans more than the Democratic president. During the most-recent government shutdown, which began during unified Republican control of the federal government, a majority of Americans blamed Trump for the impasse, rather than congressional Democrats. [; 1/11/19;, 1/15/19]
  • Some hard-right Republican lawmakers are opposing an intraparty deal to avoid a government shutdown

    • House Republicans negotiated among themselves for a short-term proposal to fund the government through October 31, with stiff spending cuts. Members from the hard-line House Freedom Caucus and the pro-McCarthy Main Street Caucus agreed to a short-term spending package with 8% cuts in spending levels except in the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. The proposal, which has little chance of being enacted, “also includes conservative restrictions on immigration and the U.S. border with Mexico. It does not include funding for Ukraine, which Biden had requested.” [Reuters, 9/18/23]
    • Some hardline House Republicans declared their opposition to the proposal. In an article titled “Another doomed GOP spending plan collapses,” Politico reported that the immediate objection to the deal from multiple GOP lawmakers “highlights just how unmanageable the House GOP truly is, with Freedom Caucus leaders — including Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), its chair — endorsing a deal only to see it publicly rejected by a good chunk of its membership within a matter of minutes.” [Politico, 9/18/23]
    • Some initial news coverage said the Republican bill was doomed, with NBC News calling it “all but guaranteed to die in the Democratic-led Senate.” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called the bill “extreme,” saying it would “cut funding to the National Institutes of Health including funding for cancer research, defund the police, and decrease resources to important allies like Ukraine and Israel,” instead of “working on bipartisan solution[s] that could be enacted.” [NBC News, 9/17/23; The Hill, 9/18/23; The Washington Post, 9/17/23]
    • The Democratic-led Senate, in contrast, has “been making good progress on the annual spending bills.” On September 18, The Hill reported that all of the annual appropriation bills had been passed out of committee and that the Democratic-led Senate “had been making good progress” until a Republican senator tried to halt progress on one of the spending bills. [The Hill, 9/18/23]
  • Right-wing media criticize Republicans for heading toward another shutdown, with some acknowledging the GOP deserves the blame

    • Fox News host Mark Levin on conservatives pushing for a shutdown: “You can’t be Pickett. … Even Pickett didn’t want to be in Pickett’s Charge.” On his radio show, Fox News host Mark Levin told conservatives, “if your goal is to bring down the government, let me tell you a little secret: They’re not going to be able to do it this way.” Levin acknowledged the reality that Senate Republicans will vote with Democrats to avoid some draconian spending cuts, then said: “And so, you know, you can't be Pickett. This can't be Pickett's Charge. Pickett's Charge, let's go get ‘em. Even Pickett didn't wanna be part of Pickett's Charge,” a reference to a disastrous Confederate attack during the Civil War. Levin added: “So if we have stupid people doing stupid things in the name of conservatism, that bothers me a lot. I'm never going to line up behind stupid.” [Westwood One, The Mark Levin Show, 9/18/23; Library of Congress, accessed 9/19/23]
    • Fox contributor Karl Rove: Republicans get blamed for government shutdowns “generally because Republicans are responsible for the shutdown. They seem to eagerly want it.” Rove continued to criticize Republican lawmakers: “So yeah, there's a reason why they get blamed. And look, the American people demand that their government try and run itself in an appropriate fashion. And the fact that the biggest financial and business enterprise in the world, the U.S. government, cannot pass a budget in time and then ends up shutting itself down over things that are on the margin. … The Republicans are going to be shooting themselves in the foot in the run-up to the 2024 election if they continue to think that shutdowns are a great way to put themselves in front of the American people.” [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 9/17/23]
    • Right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro argued that “the Republican Party, they are the stupid party, there is no question, and that stupidity is extending over into this government shutdown talk.” On his radio program, Shapiro attacked the so-called “stupid party” Republicans for missing an opportunity to use spending negotiations as leverage against Democratic Party priorities. He concluded by offering the GOP strategic advice going forward: “Whenever chaos is projected to no apparent end — because the Democrats run the Senate and Joe Biden is the president, and so they have a bit of a say in what exactly ends up becoming law here — Republicans, how about this? Be concerted in the issues that you attack. Focus for a moment in time. Otherwise, Democrats are going to have something to run on, and that is not what you want.” [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show, 9/18/23]
    • Shapiro further added, “Republicans are hellbent on running directly into a wall at full speed.” “The measure wasn’t going to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, anyway. But McCarthy was then going to use that as the basis for some sort of compromise with Democrats,” Shapiro explained. “It doesn’t matter, we’re just going to run directly into a wall, and the only loser here, presumably, will be the Republican Party. Because Democrats are not going to be punished for Republicans not even being able to come to an agreement on what they want the basis for negotiations to be.” [The Daily Wire, The Ben Shapiro Show, 9/19/23]
    • Fox News Radio host Guy Benson: There are “Republicans saying, and not without reason, a shutdown is not a good idea.” In an interview with Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), Benson said that Republicans are giving the appearance of unreasonably opposing everything, “but part of the job is like manning up and being adults and getting something done as opposed to being against everything, especially when you’re at least nominally in the majority in the chamber where this stuff has to originate.” [Fox News Radio, Guy Benson Show, 9/18/23]
    • Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade grilled Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) about his pro-shutdown stance: “Congressman, you just know if the government gets shut down, Republicans get the blame.” After a testy exchange between Kilmeade and Rosendale over the latter’s refusal to support a short-term proposal to avoid a government shutdown, Kilmeade replied: “Congressman, you just know if the government gets shut down, Republicans get the blame because they are not even providing even a CR, a pathway to a CR. You're saying I'm not going to go for 30 day, so the government shuts down. That means your investigations stop, that means the border funding doesn't happen, and that's OK?” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/19/23]