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Column: Republicans stumbling over shutdown discussion


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INDIANAPOLIS — If you need evidence that Republicans are struggling a bit to hone their message in the standoff that led to the government shutdown, look no further than Indiana.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence and U.S. Reps. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd District, and Todd Rokita, R-4th District, all stumbled over the issues last week, although Rokita’s awkward fumble had little to do with the standoff itself.

Let’s start there. CNN’s Carol Costello was interviewing Rokita about the standoff live last Thursday when he said, “Carol, you’re beautiful, but you have to be honest as well.”

Oops. She quickly ended the interview.

It started when Rokita accused the media of being “part of the problem.” That led Costello to groan and say, “Oh, c’mon. That’s so easy.” To which Rokita parroted her, “Oh, c’mon” and then went on with his line about her being beautiful.

The video went viral and left Rokita looking a little, well, sexist and patronizing.

Then there’s Stutzman. He was quoted in the Washington Examiner on Oct. 2, where he said, “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

National Democrats jumped all over that statement, and who can blame them? President Barack Obama even repeated it (although he never mentioned Stutzman by name) and said that Americans had already given Republicans an opportunity to do their jobs. “So the American people aren’t in the mood to give you a goodie bag to go with it,” he said.

I’m not sure Obama was on point. But it doesn’t matter. Stutzman opened the door.

To his credit, Stutzman realized the mistake. He came out almost immediately with a statement acknowledging that he had “carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate” and the GOP’s efforts to negotiate on the budget and federal health care law.

“Despite my remarks it’s clear that the American people want both parties to come to the table to reopen the government, tackle this nation’s debt crisis, and stop Obamacare’s pain,” Stutzman said.

Then there’s Pence, who also spent late last week trying to recast comments he’d made about the standoff.

According to the South Bend Tribune, the governor said that, “At the end of the day, I believe that efforts to delay the implementation of Obamacare and also efforts to reduce the negative impact of Obamacare on our economy are worthwhile.”

That was interpreted as Pence saying he supports the government shutdown. Not so, Pence repeated later.

“I never said the government shutdown was worthwhile,” Pence said Friday before leading a motorcycle ride across eastern Indiana. “And, like every Hoosier, I’m frustrated.”

He suggested that the shutdown would end if Democrats would agree to repeal the medical device tax, which is helping to fund the federal health care law. Of course, Pence wouldn’t say whether he thought Republicans would vote for such a plan. That’s up to them, he said.

Makes sense. After all, Pence is not in Congress anymore. Still, he and Stutzman have defined part of the problem: Republicans aren’t clear about what they want.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouse File.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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