In its effort to extract concessions from Democrats in exchange for opening the government, the GOP has faced a fundamental strategic obstacle: They don't have the votes. A majority of the members of the House have gone on record saying that if they were given the opportunity to vote, they would support what's known as a "clean" continuing resolution to fund the government.
So House Republican leaders made sure no such vote could happen.
In the hours working up to the government shutdown on Sept. 30, Republican members of the House Rules Committee were developing a strategy to keep a clean CR off the floor, guaranteeing the government would remain shut down.
Though at least 28 House Republicans have publicly said they would support a clean CR if it were brought to the floor -- enough votes for the government to reopen when combined with Democratic support -- a House rule passed just before the shutdown essentially prevents that vote from taking place.
During a floor speech on Saturday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) drew attention to the quietly passed rule when he attempted to present a motion to accept the Senate's clean continuing resolution and reopen the government.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), presiding over the chamber, told Van Hollen that the rule he was asking to use had been "altered" and he did not have the privilege of bringing that vote to the floor. In the ensuing back and forth, Chaffetz said the recently passed House Resolution 368 trumped the standing rules. Where any member of the House previously could have brought the clean resolution to the floor under House Rule 22, House Resolution 368 -- passed on the eve of the shutdown -- gave that right exclusively to the House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia.
"The Rules Committee, under the rules of the House, changed the standing rules of the House to take away the right of any member to move to vote to open the government, and gave that right exclusively to the Republican Leader," said Van Hollen. "Is that right?"
"The House adopted that resolution," replied Chaffetz.
"I make my motion, Mr. Speaker," said Van Hollen. "I renew my motion that under the regular standing rules of the House... that the house take up the Senate amendments and open the government now."
"Under section 2 of H.R. 368, that motion may be offered only by the majority leader or his designee," Chaffetz said.
"Mr. Speaker, why were the rules rigged to keep the government shut down?" Van Hollen asked.
"The gentleman will suspend," Chaffetz interjected.
"Democracy has been suspended, Mr. Speaker."
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) also highlighted the GOP's refusal to allow a clean vote on Saturday, using a novel parliamentary maneuver. Unable to shut Grayson down, Chaffetz postponed a vote on the bill.
"They can’t handle the truth," Grayson said.
Ryan Grim contributed reporting.