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Anatomy of an Echo Chamber: How the Democrats' Shutdown Loss Became a "Win"

Politics Features Government Shutdown

Late last week, Democrats forced a government shutdown because an agreement could not be reached to protect Dreamers. Three days later, however—much to the bewilderment of their base—Senate Democrats announced that the government would be reopening. The details of that agreement prompted immediate outrage from the party base, who accused their party leadership of selling out. That’s because, while the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would be funded for six years, the only progress made on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was a promise by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote in the near future. A promise that, to judge by McConnell’s entire tenure, is basically worthless.

And yet an exonerating narrative began to emerge.

According to the country’s most recognizable Democratic partisans, Senate Democrats had taken CHIP “off the table,” thus guaranteeing health insurance for millions of children nationwide. On top of that major accomplishment, they’d gotten a commitment from the Senate Republicans, meaning the ball was effectively out of their court on immigration. Within hours of one another, Scott Dworkin, founder of the Democratic Coalition, MSNBC’s Joy Reid and Lawrence O’Donnell, Vox’s Ezra Klein, New Republic‘s Jeet Heer, The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, and Shareblue’s Eric Boehlert set to work to revive the long dead ‘political chess’ narrative of the Obama years. Reid went so far as to call it a “bold fold”—a coinage that is deeply embarrassing.

Democrats won multiple battles:

-We got CHIP funded
-We reopened the Gov’t
-We got a commitment from the GOP that we get a DACA vote in the next few weeks
-If they are lying then the Gov’t shuts down again before DACA expires

GOP caved, GOP lost big time

It’s time #TrumpResign— Scott Dworkin (@funder) January 22, 2018
Another important point by @ezraklein that I also made in my @thedailybeast column: there's no evidence that more shutdown time would have moved Republican votes on DACA. On the contrary, they chose to dig in & whip their base into an anti-immigrant frenzy— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) January 23, 2018
CHIP is what Dems won today.

What did Republicans win? Another deadline.— Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence) January 22, 2018
Democrats got 6 years of CHIP, kept their shutdown leverage, and created some chance of resolving this through normal legislative channels. It's a good deal, at least for now.— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) January 22, 2018
Did the Dems betray their base? No, they don't have a single unified base— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) January 23, 2018
I yield to nobody in my desire to see Dems stand up to Trump. But I really, really don't understand the notion that they somehow just caved in. They took CHIP off the table; they got an agreement to hold a vote on DACA, and failing to honor that agreement will be bad for Rs 1/— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) January 23, 2018
this deal sharpens the narrative moving forward. it's now all about Dreamers.

and that's a good thing— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) January 22, 2018
Like a well-oiled machine, this ragtag group of respected influencers amplified one another on social media. Klein even appeared on “The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.”

Tonight @ezraklein joins @TheLastWord 10pm.— Lawrence O'Donnell (@Lawrence) January 22, 2018
Thanks for tuning in to @allinwithchris tonight, fam! One more thing before I leave 30 Rock: sticking around to react to @Lawrence's interview with @MichaelWolffNYC alongside @ezraklein !— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) January 9, 2018
But there was just one problem: the narrative was nonsense. For one thing, as House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was quick to point out, the Senate deal did not necessarily have the backing of the House. More importantly, Senate Republicans had already offered the six-year CHIP extension ahead of the shutdown, meaning the Democrats really got nothing from their capitulation—a plot hole that did not go unnoticed.

Sir, CHIP was in the bill the House passed and which the Democrats filibustered. So they already had it when they filibustered and triggered the shutdown.— Brit Hume (@brithume) January 22, 2018
Democrats getting credit for wanting to preserve long-term funding for CHIP despite voting against precisely that, repeatedly, in service to other priorities is the origin story of conservative media mistrust.— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) January 22, 2018
Even Vox pointed this inconvenient reality out in a piece by Sarah Kliff that one can only assume Klein did not personally edit. Kliff noted CHIP’s historic popularity across party lines. Well, given the multiple times Republicans tried to secure the program’s extension, apparently it still retains that popularity. The simple fact is that most Americans blamed the GOP for the shutdown, meaning CHIP’s expiration was a serious liability heading into 2018.

Of course, this all begs the question: what did Democrats really achieve with the shutdown? They revealed themselves to be weak-willed in their commitment to Dreamers, they surrendered leverage that could have been used to secure a DACA agreement with House support, or to fight for a vote to overturn the FCC’s recent net neutrality decision, or to make progress on any number of other initiatives. What’s left, besides utter political failure? If the last 48 hours are any indication, the answer is hot air, desperately spewed by an unconvincing echo chamber.

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