As rough a stretch as President Obama and his team have had over the last couple of weeks, they have one thing going for them right now: House Republicans are in disarray, increasing the likelihood that the federal government could shut down.
"The threat of a government shutdown intensified Tuesday as House Republican leaders moved toward stripping funding from President Obama's landmark health-care initiative and setting up a stalemate with the Democratic Senate," the Washington Post says.
"House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had hoped to keep the government open past Sept. 30 with relatively little fuss. But roughly 40 conservatives revolted. After a strategy session Tuesday, Boehner and his leadership team were being pushed into a more confrontational strategy that would fund the government into the new fiscal year only if Democrats agreed to undermine Obama's signature legislative achievement."
We'll repeat that again: The effort only would fund the government if the health-care law is defunded. NBC's Frank Thorp adds that if House Republicans agree on this strategy, they could vote on it as soon as Friday.
No way out
To Boehner's credit, he has tried to find a way out of this situation—like originally proposing a two-piece legislative tactic that would have essentially separated the defunding-Obamacare provision from the larger continuing resolution. But here is the situation Congress now faces: 1) We're two weeks away from when the federal government runs out of funding… 2) Both the House and Senate passed budgets, but the GOP side never appointed conferees… And 3) the appropriations process is dead (example: the THUD bill that got pulled from the floor).
(Read more: Americans unconvinced about Obamacare: NBC/WSJ poll)
In other words, Congress is broken, and it's hard to find a way out when something is broken. On top of all of his, what we're talking about is a simple solution to keep the government open for a few months to buy more time. Congress can't figure out a two-month extension??? So if it's this hard to find a way to keep the government funded for a few months, how are they supposed to figure out debt ceiling or sequestration? Again, this is not a debate about implementing an actual budget. This is a struggle over a simple continuation of current policy.
White House isn't blinking
Given this disarray, the White House isn't blinking, and it isn't going to extend a helping hand. (Its logic: If House Republicans are willing to shut down the government over Obamacare, there's nothing they can do to help.) And here's something additional we have noticed: As Washington piles on Obama—The New York Times, Politico, and Maureen Dowd are the latest to jump on—the president appears to be in a fiery mood. If he has regrets over how he and his team have handled the last few weeks, he's not letting it show publicly.
An example from yesterday: In an interview, Telemundo's Jose Diaz Balart asked Obama if the 52 percent of Americans (per the NBC/WSJ poll) who believe the health-care law will raise their costs are wrong, Obama answered, "They are. I mean, let's look at the facts. You know, already the Affordable Care Act is providing health insurance to young people who didn't have it before 'cause they could stay on their parents' plan. Already seniors are getting billions of dollars in discounts on their prescription drugs."
In that same interview, he also showed no signs of agreeing with his critics that he was wrong in going ahead with his planned political speech during the Navy Yard shooting investigation.
(Related video: Dropping the politics in times of tragedy)
Obama blames Boehner for the stall with immigration bill
Also in that Telemundo interview, Obama said the only thing stopping comprehensive immigration reform from becoming law is House Speaker John Boehner, NBC's Carrie Dann notes. "This is really a question that should be directed to Mr. John Boehner. What's stopping him from going ahead and calling that bill?" Obama said, adding that the House Speaker "shouldn't be afraid of majority opinion on this thing."
Obama added, "There's a path to get this done, and that's through Congress. And right now, everybody should be focused on making sure that that bill that's already passed out of the Senate hits the floor of the House of Representatives."
Boehner's office responded to the president's remarks with this statement: "If immigration reform is going to work, it is essential that we have the confidence of the American people that it's done the right way. That means a deliberate, step-by-step approach, not another massive Obamacare-style bill that people don't understand."
Why a status-quo 2014 is likely
Over the past 20 years, our NBC/WSJ poll has been pretty predictive if one party was going to achieve BIG gains in the House. When Republicans have any significant lead in the poll's congressional-preference question (like they did in 1994 and 2010), they've picked up 50-60 House seats. When Democrats have a double-digit lead on the generic ballot (like they did in 2006 and 2008), they've netted 20-30 seats. And when Democrats have a lead in the small single digits (like they did in '96, '98, '00, '02, '04, and '12), only a handful of House seats changed hands between the two parties.
So more than a year until Election Day 2014, where do things stand? The merged data in our NBC/WSJ for all of 2013 show Democrats with a three-point lead, 46 percent to 43 percent—which means 2014 could be shaping up to be a status-quo election. This is something that political analyst Charlie Cook touched on earlier this week. "At the very least, Americans might want to prepare themselves for Washington to muddle along for the next three years until the 2016 election," Cook wrote. But how could this change….?
Why Democrats should be worried
When you compare the 2013 merged data (so far) with the merged NBC/WSJ data from 2010 and 2012, Republicans have some advantages. Core Republicans, McCain/Romney voters, Tea Party supporters, white independents, and seniors are all more Republican-leaning than they were in 2010 and 2012. So they're more united than ever. What's more, President Obama has seen a steady erosion in his poll numbers—especially among Democrats—which is never good for the party holding the White House in midterm elections. And yet…
(Read more: Dislike of Wall Street hasn't faded with crisis)
Why Republicans should be worried
There's a one-word answer here: women. Right now, the merged data from our NBC/WSJ polls show that women are MORE Democratic-leaning in 2013 (51 percent to 36 percent) than they were in 2010 (47 percent to 41 percent) or 2012 (51 percent to 37 percent). Ditto white women—who actually leaned GOP in 2010 and 2012, but now barely lean Democratic. As 2012 proved, if Republicans are losing women by double digits, they're in trouble. Then again, Republicans still held on to control of the House after 2012… But if they do NOT grab control of the Senate, it may very well be thanks to their poor showing with female voters.
Poll: McAuliffe holds slight lead over Cuccinelli, but look at those fav/unfavs
A month and a half before Election Day, new Quinnipiac poll shows Terry McAuliffe (D) with a slight three-point lead over Ken Cuccinelli among likely voters (R) in Virginia's gubernatorial contest, 44 percent to 41 percent, with Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis getting 7 percent (which will likely come down). Despite that close margin, here's what you need to know about the race: Cuccinelli's fav/unfav rating is upside down (34 percent to 51 percent), versus McAuliffe's even rating (38 percent to 38 percent).
Voters might not be happy with either candidate, but they're MUCH unhappier about Cuccinelli. The Cuccinelli camp responds to the poll: "This race is within the margin of error, which we always knew was the case. As voters learn more about Ken Cuccinelli's record of fighting for Virginia and Terry McAuliffe's record of putting himself first at the expense of workers, they are going side with the attorney general."
—By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro and Jessica Taylor, NBC News