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Republicans struggle to understand their own shutdown plan

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.)Associated Press

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) isn't the most prominent member of the House Republican caucus, but in recent weeks, he's played a pretty important role in shutting down the government. It was Meadows who initiated a formal letter, endorsed by around 80 of his House GOP colleagues, vowing to oppose any spending measure that failed to gut the Affordable Care Act.

To this extent, Meadows helped identify that most radical contingent of his caucus, and positioned himself as one of its ringleaders.

With this in mind, as Brian Beutler reported yesterday, "it was a big surprise" when Meadows told reporters this week that the government shutdown has nothing to do with Obamacare. "This fight now has become about veterans and about national guard folks that perhaps -- reservists that are not getting paid," the North Carolina Republican said. "That's where the fight is today."

In theory, this is excellent news. Republicans have spent the last several weeks making one demand: take away health care benefits from millions of Americans or the government's lights go out. If one of the far-right congressional ringleaders of this fiasco is arguing, on the record and out loud, that the fight is no longer about health care then the shutdown can end immediately.

This point was not lost on NPR's Tamara Keith, who asked Meadows why the House doesn't just vote on "a full CR if you don't care about Obamacare anymore." If you listen to the audio, there's an awkward silence that lasts about five seconds. Eventually, the congressman says, "Why not vote on, on a full CR?"

Keith replies, "Yeah, sure. Because if you're, if Obamacare isn't the issue to you anymore..." At this point, Meadows tried this explanation:

"Because it, twofold.One is, is, that when you when you start to look, they say 'clean CR?' That it, it translates into into to truly a blank check, and, and so Obamacare is an issue for me and my constituents, but what happens is today is, we gotta figure a way to open it back up and, and with that, in opening it back up, when we start to look at these issues, it, it is critical that we make it, the decisions we, we make to be as least harmful as they possibly can be."

So to review, the reason the House can't vote on the Senate spending bill is an incoherent word salad, filled with lots of words that seem unrelated to one another.

Remember, Mark Meadows isn't some random guy off the street; he's an elected member of Congress who helped write the strategy that House Republicans followed to shut down the government.

To be sure, it was absolutely amazing to hear Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) argue that House Republicans are "not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

But Meadows' quote is nearly as ridiculous. You won't hear Democrats repeating it in speeches because gibberish makes for poor rhetoric, but Meadows' response reinforces what many have feared: House Republicans haven't the foggiest idea what they're doing right now.

Indeed, on the government shutdown's fourth day, a few truths have come into sharp focus. Republican members of Congress (1) don't know why they shut down the government; (2) don't know what they hope to get out of the shutdown; and (3) don't know how to end the shutdown.

But if you wouldn't mind blaming Democrats anyway, they'd certainly appreciate it.