Members of Congress are not exactly known to shy away from a chance to steal the spotlight. So when the government shut down on Tuesday, it launched a frenetic quest to win the messaging war about who was to blame. Here are some of the best, or worst, political stunts that the government shutdown has spawned:
Ted Cruz's Filibuster (or whatever it was)
The filibuster of sorts that started it all belonged to Sen. Ted Cruz, who stood on the Senate floor for over 20 hours making the case against funding the government unless President Obama's health care law is defunded. The talk-a-thon (which was long, but not technically a filibuster) featured everything from "Green Eggs and Ham" to Darth Vader. But was it all about stealing the spotlight? That's more unclear but Cruz did end up talking into the night, ending his speech at around high noon, just in time for everyone in the world to watch and dozens of reporters to swarm him as he stepped out of the Senate chambers.
From Dept. of Empty Chairs
House Republicans probably didn't mean to evoke Clint Eastwood's empty chair routine from last year's Republican National Committee when they decided to create a photo op featuring absent Democrats at a conference committee meeting on the budget this week. The details are complicated but in essence, Republicans called a meeting with Senate Democrats that Democrats refused to hold so Republicans in the House held the meeting anyway. The result was this picture: five Republicans, jackets off, sitting at a table with their imaginary Senate counterparts absent. Democrats were not amused. Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader tweeted: "By the way, #WhereAreTheWomen"
"Hello, This is Your Senator speaking…"
Members of Congress have been operating with skeleton staffing after the government shutdown, and some have been receiving a lot of worried (or angry) calls from their constituents. So with no interns and some lower level staff furloughed, some senators, like Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Dean Heller, chose to answer their own phones.
There's nothing like angry veterans to get members of Congress moving. In this case, however, instead of ending the government shutdown, lawmakers simply trekked over to the World War II memorial to shake hands with veterans who, though the National Parks are closed during the shutdown, went to the memorial anyway. It didn't take long for the scene to become something of a zoo, with half a dozen or more members of Congress, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., making sure the cameras caught them glad-handing members of the Greatest Generation.
Paying For Security
If that wasn't enough memorial politics, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus quickly announced that the committee would set aside some $150,000 to pay for private security at the WWII memorial for 30 days. To get the full effect, Priebus also went over to the memorial to host a press conference to announce the decision.
Sen. Rand Paul's Coffee Diplomacy
Sen. Rand Paul may be the dean of the Tea Party caucus in the Senate but he made an effort to reach out to the other side of the aisle this week by hosting a "bipartisan coffee chat" with members of Congress from both parties. He also made sure to do it where the cameras could catch him—on the steps of the Capitol. It was quasi-bipartisan: one Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., showed up.
The National Institutes of Health, along with much of the government, can't continue to fully operate during a shutdown. To illustrate the fact that some cancer patients might not be able to get treatment, House Republicans brought NIH researchers, complete with their unmistakable white coats, with them to a news conference on the Hill this week. Republicans want to pass a bill that funds parts of the government –including NIH—while leaving other parts of the government shut down. Democrats have rejected all of those piecemeal funding proposals.
Furloughed Workers in the Spotlight
Not to be outdone, Senate Democrats corralled a slew of furloughed workers to be the backdrop for a press conference aimed at blaming Republicans for the government shutdown. One by one, they told their stories of being without work and pay until Congress did its job and approved a budget.
President Obama jumped into the publicity game on Friday by taking a walk with Vice President Biden to a nearby sandwich shop. The shop is one of many in the city offering a 10 percent discount to furloughed employees. It also happens to be a favorite of the president's. Obama also chose the locale as the venue for some additional comments on the standoff, telling Republicans "this shutdown could be over today."