Senator Skips Town To Mingle With Conservative Activists Hours Before Possible Shutdown

CREDIT: Zack Beauchamp

Mike Lee appears at a conservative conference in St. Louis two days before a government shutdown.

Mike Lee appears at a conservative conference in St. Louis two days before a government shutdown.

Mike Lee appears at a conservative conference in St. Louis two days before a government shutdown.

CREDIT: Zack Beauchamp

ST. CHARLES, Missouri — After waging a war to defund Obamacare that has put the country on the precipice of a government shutdown, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) left Washington D.C. Saturday to mingle at a conservative confab in Missouri.

Lee, along with fellow Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), captured the hearts of Tea Partiers everywhere by threatening to vote against any continuing resolution that includes funding for Obamacare. Funding for the government runs out on Monday at midnight; if the CR isn’t passed by then, the government will shut down.

On Friday night, the Senate voted 54-44 to remove the Republican-inserted provision that defunded Obamacare, sending a “clean” CR back to the House of Representatives (albeit one that funds the government at sequestration levels). The House will consider the CR on Saturday, but if they do anything other than pass the same CR the Senate approved, the two legislative bodies will have to come to some kind of an agreement. House Republican plan to attach Obamacare alterations to the measure.

Still, despite his central role in causing this crisis, you wouldn’t have found Lee at work on Capitol Hill this morning. Instead, 60 hours before a government shutdown, Lee flew to St. Louis for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to give a speech and sign books, taking advantage of his waxing popularity among the conservative grassroots.

What makes Lee’s decision to leave DC even more eye-raising is the fact that many of his Republican colleagues in both the House and Senate cancelled their prior engagements because of ongoing budget negotiations.

Every member of Congress scheduled to appear at the American Conservative Union’s (ACU) event, including Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Roy Blunt (R-MO), cancelled — save Lee. Laura Regis, the ACU’s National Communications Director, confirmed they cancelled to work on the government shutdown crisis.

“What’s going on in Washington this weekend, especially with the CR is so important that the Members of Congress could not leave Washington,” Rigas said.

Even Cruz cancelled an appearance in Texas on Friday night, apologizing for his absence via Twitter.

Lee has played a central role in in shaping the GOP’s shutdown in position in both the House and the Senate. helping guide Republican congressmen’s strategy. As National Review’s Robert Costa reported, Lee and Cruz held a conference call with conservative congressmen on Thursday, urging them to hold fast and oppose any effort to avoid a shutdown fight. “Hours later,” Costa writes, “Speaker John Boehner’s plan [to pass the CR] fizzled.”

If the government does shut down on Tuesday, as appears likely, here’s what’ll happen.