House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., finds himself between a rock and a hard place: Between Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and the United States Senate.
“You cannot be the Republican Speaker of the House while you’re using Democratic votes to pass Joe Biden’s spending priorities,” said Gaetz. “Now maybe you can stay the Speaker of the House. But you won’t be the Republican Speaker anymore.”
Gaetz noted that if McCarthy leans on a coalition of Republicans and Democrats to avert a shutdown, “he will face a motion to vacate.”
Gaetz added that McCarthy “would be a Speaker serving at the pleasure of Democrats.”
That’s unclear. Republicans only have a four seat majority. House Democrats are coy about what they would do if Gaetz called for McCarthy no-confidence vote. If just five Republicans vote in favor of ousting McCarthy and all Democrats join, the House could face the first mid-Congress vote for Speaker since the early 20th Century.
Gaetz could well drop the hammer on McCarthy if he courts Democrats to avert a government shutdown. Fox learned that Gaetz even spoke to some Democrats about trying to secure their support to bounce McCarthy from the Speakership.
That prompted a rebuke from some Republicans.
“There’s only one person to blame for any potential government shutdown and that’s Matt Gaetz. He’s not a conservative Republican. He’s a charlatan,” said Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., who holds one of the most endangered GOP seats on the map. “When you’re working with Democrats to try to vacate the Speaker, you’re a joke.”
House Republicans conducted a tempestuous meeting Thursday morning where the Speaker and Gaetz traded barbs.
It was long ago said that Congress is like high school. And the egging on by Gaetz appears to have devolved into that.
Gaetz sent around a document he bills as “Kevin’s Report Card.” It lists whether the Speaker complied with certain conservative demands for votes on various legislative initiatives. The “report card” comes complete with what appears to be a high school yearbook picture of McCarthy, and “teacher’s notes” reading “While Speaker McCarthy has been irritable and unhinged at times, we remain hopeful in his ability to improve.”
McCarthy began chatting with Democratic senators in an effort to attach a border security package to the Senate’s interim spending bill.
“I’m talking to Senate Democrats because even this morning, they want to do something on the border. I’ve got Democrats who came up to me on the floor last night saying ‘we want to do something on the border,’” said McCarthy.
McCarthy also said he had spoken to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., about a border plan “for quite some time.”
So here’s where we stand: the Senate has a bill which funds the government for six weeks and includes money for Ukraine. It doesn’t tackle the border. McCarthy tried unsuccessfully to get the Senate to include a border provision in its stopgap spending bill, known as a “continuing resolution” or “CR” in Congress-ese.
“It shouldn’t be attached to the CR. The CR is an emergency bill. In a matter of hours, we’re going to shut down the government,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “To pin the whole future of the federal government on reaching an agreement on a topic that has eluded us for years I don’t think is a fair deal.”
Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., “filled the amendment tree” on Thursday afternoon. Once the Senate voted to begin debate on its CR, Schumer – as is his right as Leader – blocked all other amendments by “filling” the available slots with his own amendments. Schumer then “filed cloture” to set up a vote to break a filibuster on the CR for Saturday.
So consider this: McCarthy aimed to attach the border language to the House CR. Ukraine money was already in the Senate CR. So how about some horse trading? Yours truly asked the Speaker if he could accept Ukraine aid in his bill if the Senate agreed to border security.
“I’m not going to play with that in the last hours,” replied McCarthy, pivoting to a non sequitur and bringing up President Biden’s fundraising.
“Let’s see what (the Senate) can produce,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy also continued to point out that the Senate “hasn’t passed anything yet.”
And neither has the House. That’s why McCarthy’s interim spending bill imploded on the floor Friday. Twenty-one GOPers voted nay.
While it hasn’t passed yet, the Senate produced a bipartisan stopgap spending package which commanded yea votes from more than three-quarters of all senators on two procedural votes. That bill is on a glidepath to passage – albeit likely sometime Sunday or Monday – after the shutdown deadline.
McCarthy was unable to get his Members to coalesce around a CR, no matter what he did.
The House constantly updated and amended various spending bills, voting deep into the night on several occasions this week – then coming back with a meeting of the House Rules Committee at 8 am et Friday morning on the CR. One lawmaker characterized this as “legislation by concierge.” Lawmakers sure got lots of votes on a litany of amendments. But in the end, few got what they wanted. Another called it “governing by crisis” – although few embraced the crisis.
Allegedly confused about the path forward, 27 members of the Freedom Caucus sent McCarthy a letter Thursday requesting “basic information” about the path on spending bills.
“No Member of Congress can or should be expected to consider supporting a stopgap funding measure without answers to these reasonable questions,” wrote the Freedom Caucus members to the Speaker.
McCarthy found this approach baffling because he had spoken to Freedom Caucus Members “all day.”
“If they send me a letter,” said the Speaker when chatting with reporters, “It’s not for me. It’s for you. Trying to make news.”
Speaking of trying to make news, Gaetz was soon at it again, calling a potential closure of the government a “McCarthy shutdown.”
The Speaker flagged that immediately.
“So if he votes against a continuing resolution, it’s my fault?” asked McCarthy. “That’s interesting.”
This is why McCarthy finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Between Matt Gaetz and the U.S. Senate.
But McCarthy kept grinding.
“I never give up,” McCarthy declared on multiple occasions over the past few weeks. But after days of trying, the gambit McCarthy used to romance Republicans on spending bills didn’t last.
Gaetz could bring up his motion to bounce McCarthy imminently. The Senate has the votes on the CR.
There’s now chatter about Republicans supporting a “clean” two-week CR. It’s believed that approach could drop the 21 GOP noes on Friday’s bill to just nine or so.
This is just the latest approach. Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce could have a longer relationship with Taylor Swift than the shelf lives of the various plans McCarthy deployed to court Republicans on the spending bills.
Knowing Swift, she will probably write a song about Kelce if they break up. It’s doubtful McCarthy will ever write a song about House Republicans rejecting his Herculean efforts. And Bonnie Raitt already claimed the tune “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
However, a few lawmakers whispered to Fox that McCarthy should take a page out of the playbook of House Speaker Joe Cannon, R-Ill., in 1910. Cannon faced various revolts from Members who didn’t like how he ran the House. Cannon’s adversaries threatened a maneuver similar to that of Gaetz: a motion to vacate the chair.
Cannon beat them to it. The Speaker put his own vote of no confidence on the floor and prevailed. Cannon called the bluff of his opponents and won. Granted, Cannon was weaker. But he survived a challenge to his Speakership.
Some Republicans have told Fox McCarthy should do the same thing.
It’s an audacious move.
And there’s a reason one of the structures on Capitol Hill is named the “Cannon House Office Building.”