As the countdown towards a possible government shutdown began on Friday, Morning Joe’s pundits were already obsessed by the question of who would be to blame. Co-host Joe Scarborough was particularly set on holding both President Trump and congressional Republicans responsible for any failure to reach a deal on continuing to fund the government beyond midnight.
During Friday’s broadcast, there were 11 clear instances of Morning Joe co-hosts or guest panelists trying to apportion blame for the shutdown along party lines. In eight of these cases, the MSNBC morning pundits argued for holding Republicans as primarily responsible, with Scarborough himself leading the charge in almost every instance. In two cases, Joe’s panelists argued for holding both political parties accountable for a government shutdown. Finally, in one instance, Daily Beast Politics Editor Sam Stein made the argument that Democrats would not have an easy time blaming a shutdown on Republicans and noted that congressional Democrats he had spoken to had admitted to feeling “morally responsible” for pushing a shutdown.
Of the eight instances holding Republicans responsible for any imminent government shutdown, seven involved Scarborough directly. In his statements, Joe frequently cast Trump as a conscious saboteur of a bipartisan deal to avoid a shutdown and pass a “clean DACA bill.” To the extent that he talked about them, Scarborough usually portrayed congressional Republicans as being lackeys in Trump’s master plan:
1. What Donald Trump and the Republicans are betting on are two very, very faulty things. Uh, their, their logic is so faulty. Number one, they're betting that Americans will look at Washington, D.C., knowing that Washington, D.C. is dominated by Republicans who run the White House, who run the executive branch, who run the Senate, who run the House, who control the Supreme Court, their appointees do, whose appointees are now starting to filter down and they’re gonna be controlling the judiciary. And Donald Trump wants to say: Yes, I know that we’re in charge, we control the board, we have the CEO, but we're gonna blame the shareholders. That’s not gonna bu-, uh, uh, they’re -- voters aren't gonna buy that [...].
2. If they think that they can shut down the government by going back on the President's promise of keeping the government open for a clean DACA deal, if they think that they can shut down the government and not see the President's own promise back in the fall that he wanted to shut down the government because he thought a government shutdown would be a good thing, then they are dreaming and they deserve the minority status that they're going to get this coming fall. They are on the losing side of history.
3. [T]here's so many smoking guns out there. The President bragging last Fall about wanting to shut down the government. Uh, but also, just last week, the President of the United States saying: You guys go out and make this bipartisan deal. You have the answer. Whatever you bring back to me in the interest of bipartisanship, I will sign it. That ended up being a lie. Does he wanna shut down the government based on that lie [...]?
4. [H]ow do you tell the Democratic Party to buck up? Here you have an issue that they're on the right side of. 90% of Americans agree with them. The President of the United States himself when he was a private citizen said you blame it on the president. The President of the United States, this last Fall, just four months ago, was bragging about wanting a government shutdown. Th-, I mean -- how does Chuck Schumer, how do other Democrats not stand firm after the President of the United States makes a racist declaration and you have Republicans senators lying for him [...]?
5. [Y]ou can only conclude that the President wanted this dreamers bill too. He just wanted to shut down the government more, so I'm really sad. This is on Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
6. The President is now, uh, once again pushing America towards a government shutdown. And as Donald Trump himself said of Barack Obama on Fox and Friends: If the government shuts down, make no mistake of it, it is the president's fault. He will live by those words. Republicans will live by those words. And Republicans will live by the President's own desire for a government shutdown this past Fall. It's a losing, losing hand for Republicans, and Democrats should attack in full force here.
7. [L]et’s end where we began. This is a president who said he was looking forward to a government shutdown back in the fall. This is a president who said he wanted a clean DACA bill back in the fall. This is a president who, last week, said that he wanted Republicans and Democrats to come to him with a plan, and he'd support the plan. They did that. He opposed the plan. And yesterday, we had Mitch McConnell saying they still don't know what the President's stand is on DACA, or on immigration.
In one additional instance of blaming Republicans for a government shutdown, MSNBC political commentator and Republican strategist Susan Del Percio added on to Scarborough’s points by giving advice to Democrats for how to handle the shutdown situation:
SCARBOROUGH: [W]hat do you tell Democrats right now in this critical moment?
DEL PERCIO: Well, they should stand up because the Republicans are gonna get the brunt of the blame. They’re -- it's all gonna fall on them. They have the House. They have the Senate. They have the White House. It will fall on them. What we're seeing is a president that has no experience in governing. And frankly on the, in the Congress, we see on the House side two-thirds of the Republicans in the, in the Congress do not know how to work across the aisle because they've never had a Republican president. All they've done is be the party of no. They don't know how to govern themselves.
Del Percio immediately followed up these statements by switching to a more ambiguous parsing of blame for the possible government shutdown:
And let's look at it. When you look at the Senate, a week ago, they were really close. But it was Donald Trump who decided he wanted a fight. He doesn't wanna win. He just wants to fight with people. And he -- and as a result, you can't trust him. And that's the biggest problem. So, I don't blame the Democrats for standing up and, and, and causing this shutdown. As a matter of fact, there's Republicans on the Senate side who won't vote for it eith-, either, so they may actually have a bipartisanship there.
So ultimately, even while pinning a good deal of blame on Trump and congressional Republicans, Del Percio did recognize that Democrats have some substantial political capital that they are actively using to push for killing any continuing resolution to fund the government that lacks a DACA component.
NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent Kasie Hunt was much more straightforward in dividing blame for a government shutdown between Republicans and Democrats in Congress:
You're asking me what the lynchpin is to prevent a shutdown? Honestly, I feel as though we are heading to a point of basically inevitable shutdown, and the reason for that is that both sides seem to have calculated that it's not in their interests to give in or to negotiate.
As noted above, it was Sam Stein of the Daily Beast who made the strongest case for blaming Democrats for a shutdown. However, even in his argument, Stein put distance between himself and his assertions by indicating that he believed that it would be other people who would blame Democrats, not necessarily him (Stein’s distancing language below is comparable to Del Percio’s in her initial statements pinning blame on Republicans):
[Y]ou know, it’s funny. I am less, I -- from my reporting and, uh, from some analysis I've been doing, [...] I feel less bullish as you, than you guys do about how Democrats will fare in this fight. And, you know, you talk to Democrats on the Hill–they feel very, uh, much [sic] morally responsible for doing this. [...] And, from what I am getting, you know, the Republican argument here is fairly succinct. We have a bill, the merits of the bill that the Democrats actually do support. It's what's not in the bill that they don't support. Democrats don't have necessarily the most cohesive rejoinder to that argument. [...] But, again, it's not the easiest argument right now for Democrats, uh, to make and it's not clear who would be the Democratic point person to make that argument [...]. So, I, I don't know if I share the bullishness of the panel about how Democrats fare in light of a shutdown here.
It’s worth noting here that on Tuesday of this week, Scarborough strongly urged congressional Democrats to do everything in their power to bring about a government shutdown and to secure an amnesty deal for the DACA “dreamers.” Scarborough reiterated several of those points on today’s broadcast, but that did not constitute a huge part of his commentary about the potential shutdown.