Speaker Kevin McCarthy, facing growing unrest in the GOP conference, is moving on a new plan to keep the government open for another month – but he is again encountering resistance from conservative hardliners who are threatening to derail the effort and oust him from his powerful perch atop the House.
With just days to go until the September 30 deadline, McCarthy briefed his conference on the new plan to keep the government open – paired with deeper spending cuts and new border security measures – all an attempt to win over wary members on his right flank who revolted over a previous proposal he had hoped to approve this week.
But with Democrats steadfastly opposed to deeper domestic spending cuts in the plan, McCarthy needs to rely on votes from within his own conference to get the measure through the narrowly divided chamber. That means he can only lose four Republican votes, but as many as seven GOP hardliners are threatening to vote against it.
McCarthy’s allies in the conference are furious.
Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Arkansas who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, lambasted the hardliners, calling it a “breach of duty.”
“We’ve got a handful of people that are holding the rest of the conference, the majority of our conference kind of held hostage right now and in turn, holding up America,” he told CNN.
Lacking support to get the bill out of the chamber, McCarthy might have to rely on Democratic support in the House and to win approval by the Democratic-led Senate and the Democrat in the White House.
But conservatives are warning that McCarthy could lose his job if he goes that route.
“If Speaker McCarthy relies on Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, I would call the Capitol moving truck to his office pretty soon because my expectation would be he’d be out of the speaker’s office quite promptly,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a leader of the push to oust McCarthy, told CNN.
“It wouldn’t be a good move,” Rep. Chip Roy of Texas warned when asked by CNN if McCarthy’s job would be in peril if he relied on Democrats to keep the government open.
It takes just one member to call for a vote seeking McCarthy’s ouster – a condition the speaker agreed to in order to win the gavel on the 15th ballot in January. And it would take just five Republicans to side with all Democrats to remove him from the speakership.
McCarthy now is at risk of losing both his speakership and the vote to avoid a shutdown.
Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, told CNN’s Abby Phillip that it’s a “viable option” to remove McCarthy as speaker. He added that there are seven members who are “locked in concrete” against the stop-gap and predicted “there are probably four others that are pretty close.”
Or, rank-and-file House Republicans could try to circumvent McCarthy and cut a deal with Democrats to force a vote on the floor, something that would require the support of 218 members.
Rep. Marc Molinaro, a GOP freshman from a swing district in New York, told CNN that going that route is “always an option.”
Still, McCarthy plans to press ahead and try to get a plan out of the House and set up a showdown with the Senate.
Leaving the conference meeting on Wednesday evening, the California Republican told reporters that GOP negotiators made “tremendous progress as an entire conference,” following days of infighting and less than two weeks before the government funding deadline.
“We are very close,” McCarthy said Wednesday evening when asked specifically what progress had been made on the GOP short-term bill. “I feel like just got a little more movement to go there,” he added of the new GOP plan. When asked specifically about the topline numbers, he wouldn’t get into details but said: “We’re in a good place.”
The plan, as outlined by the speaker, would keep the government open for 30 days at $1.471 trillion spending levels, a commission to address the debt and a border security package. Separately, they also agreed to move year-long funding bills at a $1.526 trillion level. That level is below the bipartisan agreement that the speaker reached with the White House to raise the national debt limit.
The levels are also far lower than what senators from both parties and the White House are willing to accept, meaning it’s unclear how such a deal would avert a government shutdown. With just 10 days left to fund the government, the new plan sets up a standoff with the Senate over how to keep the government open.
As part of the deal, Republicans now believe they have the votes to move forward on the yearlong Pentagon spending bill that five conservative hardliners scuttled just Tuesday, with Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Ken Buck of Colorado indicating they will flip to a yes on the rule and will vote to advance the Department of Defense bill Thursday after the speaker came down to the spending levels that Norman had been demanding.
“Sounds like we’ve got the votes for the rule,” California Rep. Mike Garcia said, pointing to Buck and Norman as having committed to changing to a “Yes.”
With McCarthy’s extremely thin margin in the chamber – and Democrats so far united against the GOP proposal – Republican leadership has been negotiating for days to try to win over enough GOP support to pass their legislation.
When asked about struggling to make progress earlier Wednesday, McCarthy repeated his favorite line, insisting he will never back down from a challenge no matter how messy.
“I wouldn’t quit the first time I went for the vote for speaker,” McCarthy said, a reference to how he was voted speaker only after 15 rounds and days of voting in January. “The one thing if you haven’t learned anything about me yet, I will never quit.”
However, an additional potential complicating factor emerged Wednesday night with former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, coming out in opposition to a short-term funding bill as he called on lawmakers to defund the DOJ and the investigations into him.
Moderates consider working with Democrats
McCarthy and his GOP leadership team have been trying to sell the House Republican Conference on unifying behind a plan to fund the government, brokered between the House Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Main Street Caucus over the weekend. But that proposed legislation encountered immediate opposition from more than a dozen far-right Republican lawmakers who wanted deeper spending cuts attached.