House Republicans’ troubles coalescing behind a unified plan on keeping the government open past Saturday and to force the Joe Biden administration to make changes to toughen the southern border may endanger House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) hold on the gavel.
The Washington Post late Thursday reported a group of hardline conservative Republicans was planning to try as early as next week to oust McCarthy, whose hold on his conference has often been tenuous in his nine months as speaker. In his place, according to the report, they would install Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), currently the third-ranking House Republican as the party whip.
A fight over the speaker’s gavel would come at an especially bad time politically as House Republicans have simultaneously failed to settle on a formula for a short-term spending bill that would need to be passed by Saturday night to keep the government open and signaled they have no interest in a bipartisan stopgap bill emerging from the Senate. That sets the stage for the first government shutdown since 2019.
On Thursday, both McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) signaled it was likely a technical shutdown on Sunday was unavoidable as efforts to find a path forward stalled.
“Things are coming down to the wire,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday morning.
Schumer told senators they can expect to have a procedural vote on Saturday before getting to a vote on the Senate’s short-term funding bill keeping the government’s lights on through Nov. 17.
That process could drag into Sunday and almost certainly would not resolve the issue entirely, since McCarthy has said he is not interested in having the House vote on the Senate bill. McCarthy’s struggles to unite his conference are the major force pushing the government toward a shutdown.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) pauses to talk to reporters as he heads to the House Chamber for a vote at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Saturday night is when funding officially runs out, which would make Sunday the first day of a government shutdown. Essential functions necessary to preserve life and safety would still be fulfilled, but many government workers would be sent home and others, like military personnel and border agents, would have to work without pay.
McCarthy also hinted Thursday lawmakers will not meet the Saturday night deadline.
Appearing on CNBC, McCarthy declared: “If you want to do it by a clock, I don’t know what to give you the odds on a clock. But if you want to gauge at the end of the day, do we get this done, the answer is yes.”
“I don’t give up if the clock runs out,” he added. “I’m OK playing in overtime.”
A shutdown beginning and ending during a weekend would likely have only a limited impact. Politically, it could give McCarthy and Republicans proof they tried to push the White House and Democrats into border policy changes, but without any of the inconveniences to the public that would happen if the shutdown extended into the regular workweek.
“The only good news about any of this is that it will happen over a Sunday and of course that will not have a big impact,” said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president with the Bipartisan Policy Center and veteran of previous shutdowns while a budget staffer in the Senate.
“It’s that Tuesday and Wednesday when it will start to show some impact,” he said.
I don’t give up if the clock runs out.House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
McCarthy acknowledged he faces problems getting his fractious fellow party members in line with his plan to have the House pass four spending bills that would fund almost three-quarters of the government and then pass a short-term stopgap funding/border policy bill to keep the government open while the Senate considers what the House sent it.
“I’ve got a challenge inside our conference. I’ve got members who have held us up since the summer not to be able to bring our appropriation bills up. Otherwise, we would probably have them all done. I’ve got members who will not vote to have a stopgap measure to continue to fund government,” McCarthy said.
“If you won’t do any of that, it’s hard to govern,” he said.
For weeks now, McCarthy has been faced with a dilemma: either appease hardline anti-spending members in his conference and pass funding bills with no chance of being approved in the Senate, causing a shutdown, or turn to Democrats to provide votes for the bills, undermining his hold on the speaker’s gavel.
The dilemma gained new life Thursday when McCarthy reportedly sparred during a closed-door conference meeting with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has repeatedly threatened to begin the formal process to try to oust McCarthy.
Despite the dissension, though, McCarthy’s tenacity is not to be underestimated. He was elected speaker in January after a marathon series of 15 votes. The same reason he won then may be why he would be hard to topple now: There is no obvious successor waiting in the wings that party factions could unify around.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) was very skeptical of any effort to topple McCarthy, saying his standing in the party had grown in recent weeks and Republicans would simply end up renominating him if he was ousted.
Emmer, for his part, told the Post he had no interest in replacing McCarthy, a sentiment he repeated at a late night series of votes. Cole went even further, stressing Emmer’s loyalty to McCarthy.
“I’ll eat my hat if Tom Emmer ever allowed that to happen. He’s about as close an ally to Speaker McCarthy as there is in Congress,” he said.
McCarthy had also historically been a prodigious fundraiser, a valued skill in the House GOP leadership track.
McCarthy could, in theory, turn to Democrats if the threat to his gavel is serious. But that would be huge about-face for one of the House GOP’s most partisan leaders in recent years, and it’s unclear if House Democrats would be sympathetic.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said he would take his cues from leadership.
“I don’t know. I mean, if we don’t have a speaker because they wouldn’t be able to elect another one, that’s effectively shutting down the government, and we wouldn’t be able to govern,” he said.