President Biden’s shutdown strategy is simple: Avoid one, if possible. But if not, make sure Americans know whom to blame.
His aides at the White House and in his re-election campaign have spent the past several days describing the consequences of what they call an “extreme Republican shutdown” of the government: delayed disaster relief; no food stamps for poor women and children; no pay for troops, air traffic controllers, Border Patrol or Transportation Security Administration agents.
“They pull the country toward an extreme government shutdown in the name of draconian cuts to education, law enforcement, Meals on Wheels and Head Start,” Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said in describing House Republicans.
The president and his team are quick to insist that they do not want a shutdown, especially a lengthy one, because of the harms that would ripple across America. But they are also confident that Republicans will receive the blame, as they have during standoffs that temporarily shuttered government agencies in years past.
White House aides also believe that the intraparty fighting in Congress is putting Republican dysfunction on display, to the benefit of Mr. Biden and Democrats. Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a handful of his most conservative colleagues are refusing to keep the government open unless their demands for border security and spending cuts are met.
“Extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with people’s lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said in a statement on Thursday, highlighting nearly 2,000 disaster recovery projects that would be delayed by a shutdown.
Mr. McCarthy has tried to draw Mr. Biden into the drama by suggesting that he would be responsible for a work stoppage because of his refusal to support Republican proposals for more restrictions on migrants at the border with Mexico.
“The president, it’s in his hands,” Mr. McCarthy, Republican of California, told reporters on Capitol Hill this week. “He can keep the government open by taking an action on the border.”
Mr. Biden has also been under pressure from members of his own party to confront the surge of migrants at the border, thousands of whom are putting enormous stress on social services in big cities like New York and Boston.
The president and his aides have pointed to their efforts to provide more migrants with a chance to receive work permits. And they have repeatedly noted that Republicans blocked a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that might have helped the authorities manage migration more easily.
Advisers to Mr. Biden, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss White House and campaign strategy, are confident that — with a little nudging — Americans will place the blame squarely on House Republicans if the government shuts down this weekend. That could benefit the president for the remainder of his term, they say, by bolstering his leverage with lawmakers and eroding support for the Republican majority in the House.
Campaign aides also say the sense of disgust among Americans with the shenanigans on Capitol Hill will help Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign by sharpening the contrast with his rivals. Former President Donald J. Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, has urged House conservatives to shut down the government, a move that Mr. Biden’s advisers and supporters are quick to point out.
“Except for President Trump, who called for Republicans to shut down the government, no one actually wants this, because it means real people will get hurt,” said Stephanie Cutter, a veteran Democratic strategist who has helped presidents develop messages inside the White House and during campaigns.
Those running Mr. Biden’s campaign would be wise to repeatedly draw the public’s attention to the similarities between Mr. Trump and his conservative allies in Washington, Ms. Cutter said.
“Republican infighting and dysfunction is the best example of the difference between Bidenomics and MAGAnomics,” she said. “These situations, when you’re thinking about your closing arguments, help you really crystallize the choice voters will have a year from now.”
The president’s team has begun to do just that.
His campaign issued a statement on Monday blasting Mr. Trump’s call for a shutdown, accusing House Republicans of “gleefully letting Donald Trump function as their chief political strategist at the expense of American families.” Mr. Biden’s most recent campaign ad, titled “The Way,” emphasizes bipartisan legislative achievements even as the current Congress is in stalemate.
Inside the West Wing, the president’s closest advisers have been sending out daily talking points for their allies to deliver as a shutdown looms. Stephen Benjamin, the director of public engagement at the White House, and Anita Dunn, one of the president’s top strategists, emphasized those issues on a conference call on Thursday with Democratic surrogates.
Aides are encouraging allies to stress several points.
First, they are told to repeatedly remind voters that Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy shook hands on a spending agreement months ago that was supposed to avert a shutdown. The speaker, under pressure from his conservative members, later reneged on the deal.
Second, Biden allies are urged to note how isolated Mr. McCarthy is. Senate Republicans, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have urged their House colleagues to accept a short-term agreement to keep the government open.
Finally, Biden officials are asking their supporters to be specific about the pain that a shutdown is likely to inflict.
The White House warned in a statement this week of the impact of a shutdown on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as WIC, which helps poor families buy food.
“During an extreme Republican shutdown, women and children who count on WIC would soon start being turned away at grocery store counters, with a federal contingency fund drying up after just a few days and many states left with limited WIC funds to operate the program,” the statement said.
The White House went into further detail with a state-by-state breakdown of exactly how many women, children and infants were enrolled in the program — 421,294 in Florida, 207,728 in Michigan, 139,765 in Arizona and so on — and at risk of losing assistance.