With the shutdown in its fourth day, President
Political theater is at an all-time high as both parties seek to outdo each other with more elaborate and showy news events, even as there is little legislating or even backroom negotiating underway to end the stalemate.
The shutdown has emptied the usually bustling halls of the Capitol. Phones are going unanswered. The Capitol barber shop is closed, as are some eateries — even Taco Thursday was canceled. And worse still: Senators were forced to operate their own elevators.
But members of
With the parties at a stalemate and much work at a halt, lawmakers have plenty of opportunities for theatrics.
House Republicans emerged from a closed-door strategy session saying they were sticking with their plan to move smaller spending bills that would resume some of the most visible and politically popular functions of government. "This isn't some damn game," said House Speaker
He opened a meeting with his colleagues by reading letters he had received from students who had sent encouraging advice for handling stress, which included taking a nap and listening to music, such as
Democrats have complained that the GOP's piecemeal approach is itself a stunt. The tactic has put the tea-party-infused Republican House majority in the odd position of arguing the virtues of government spending.
To promote one such bill, which would restore funding for the
"No more gimmicks. No more games," Sen.
To her side was a giant poster (the Senate's printing office has been deemed essential, it appears) with a Twitter hashtag: "#justvote."
House Democrats debuted a different one, "#demandavote," during an event on the Capitol's East Front. House Republicans opted for: "#letstalk."
One essential function members have performed is that of tour guide. With none of the building staff available to handle visitors, the public's only ticket into the Capitol is as the guest of an elected official.
Friday was a particularly busy day — at one point in the afternoon, no fewer than seven groups were walking through National Statuary Hall and the Rotunda, each led by an amateur guide.
"You get a chance to talk to them and see how much they appreciate this building and this country," said Rep.
"I go through this building fast, with my
One caller, Hudson recalled, said "he didn't vote for me and wanted me to vote for the healthcare bill." Another was so stunned that his congressman was actually on the line, his wife called back to verify it.
Callers to Sen.
Some stunts didn't come off as planned. Protesters were audible at a Republican news conference on the West Front of the Capitol meant to highlight a bill to reopen parks and museums.
When House Republicans came to the aid of veterans unable to visit the barricaded World War II Memorial, Rep.
"You ought to be ashamed!" he said to her.
A day later,
Obama's sandwich outing Friday came as he tried to contain the fallout from an unnamed senior administration official's remark that the White House was "winning" the budget fight.
"There's no winning," Obama corrected, before ordering a turkey, prosciutto, pesto and mozzarella sub.
Obama's public schedule was otherwise empty Friday, after he canceled the rest of his already-abbreviated trip to Asia to stay in Washington. With the president in town, both chambers of Congress scheduled rare weekend sessions.
Not all the week's manufactured events were about one-upmanship. Sen.
"Let's sing 'Kumbaya'!" he joked.