Boehner to Obama: 'I Got Overrun'

A behind-the-scenes look at how and why the shutdown happened

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 18, 2013 7:49 AM CDT

(Newser) – During a White House meeting on Oct. 2, a day into the shutdown, John Boehner slipped out for a smoke. Barack Obama followed him, demanding a private explanation for the shutdown. "John, what happened?" he asked. "I got overrun, that's what happened," Boehner replied. That anecdote kicks off Politico's behind-the-scenes look at the crisis. The Wall Street Journal has one too—with different bits of insider gossip. Here are the most interesting tidbits from both:

  • Obama and Harry Reid decided on their no-negotiation strategy over the summer, believing that Boehner could never unite his fractured caucus behind anything. Republicans never believed the pair would stick to it.
  • Boehner and Reid initially struck a deal in which Boehner would pass a sequester-level budget with an ObamaCare-defunding rider that the Senate could simply strip out. Boehner assumed—incorrectly—that his caucus only wanted a show vote.
  • Boehner's former chief of staff was feeding the White House intelligence, telling it that Boehner would have to fight up until the debt ceiling deadline. Reid also took to monitoring Twitter for hints on the GOP's next move—a sign of how badly communication was flowing.
  • Many Republicans turned to Joe Biden, hoping he would intervene. Biden told them he'd been "sidelined … at the direction of the president," one rep says. Reid, bitter about the fiscal cliff deal Biden negotiated, had wanted him out.
  • At one point, Boehner brought up the idea of a "grand bargain" at a White House meeting; Reid laughed in his face.
  • When Paul Ryan joined the fray at an Oct. 10 meeting, he told Obama that he would "miss his moment" and derail his whole term if he didn't strike a deal. But he also made what White House aides called a "Freudian slip," saying, "We’re going to have six weeks to negotiate the debt limit."
  • That night, aides to Boehner, Cantor, and Obama began talking about a broader budget deal, and agreed to talk more in the morning. The White House never called.
  • When Mitch McConnell finally decided he had to broker the deal, he partnered with Lamar Alexander—angering Susan Collins, who had worked far harder on the process, only to see her own deal torpedoed.
  • McConnell picked Alexander because he had better conservative credentials, and was pals with Reid confidante Chuck Schumer. Alexander and Schumer brokered the deal behind the scenes, then passed it off to Reid and McConnell.
  • McConnell tells the Washington Post that he saw himself as a backup quarterback thrown into the game. "I felt like I was on the two-yard line, I had a pretty weak offensive line, and the best I could hope for was to try to punt."
  • Boehner made one last-ditch attempt to pass an alternative. "We're running out of time," he told his caucus. "Your 'no' vote has consequences." But as Reid and Obama had predicted, he couldn't convince them.
  • With the ball back in McConnell and Reid's court, McConnell made a few last-minute demands. Reid rejected them. It took all of 15 minutes for McConnell to call back and accept Reid's terms.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
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