House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is quickly running out of time as he tries to unify House Republicans to pass a bill to keep the federal government running as fresh challenges to his leadership intensify.
McCarthy has vowed to move forward on an $886 billion fiscal 2024 defense appropriations bill this week and bring a 30-day stop-gap measure – known as a “continuing resolution,” or CR – to the floor on Thursday.
“The ball’s in Kevin’s court,” said South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, a small but powerful bloc of 20+ House Republicans that want a guarantee on a “top line” spending level before approving additional funding bills.
McCarthy told reporters Wednesday that he’ll oversee an unusual Saturday session as Republicans remain deeply divided on how to prevent a shutdown scheduled at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for McCarthy: cave to the fiscal demands of the caucus or work out a deal with the Dems to keep the government open, effectively pulling the trigger for the Republiocan-led House to file a “motion to vacate” and remove him as Speaker.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York met with McCarthy earlier this week, but Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a proverbial thorn in the Speaker’s side, has been sniping from the sidelines as to the Speaker’s fate, including calling him “pathetic” in an interview with MSNBC.
Frustrated by the rebel chatter, the Speaker told Republicans behind closed doors last week to essentially kick him out or shut up.
“File the fucking motion,” a defiant McCarthy growled, according to those in the private meeting.
Political infighting could throw the House into further paralysis, as ex-Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan will attest. Both left office before their terms ended due to the legislative chaos caused by the Tea Party Caucus, which came to power in 2009.
“The far-right knuckleheads would refuse to back the House leadership no matter what, but because they were ‘insurgents,’ they never had the responsibility of trying to actually fix things themselves,” Boehner wrote in his political memoir, “On the House” in 2021.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, there have been 14 shutdowns since 1981. The most recent – and the longest – budget showdown went on for 35 days between December 2018 and January 2019, costing the economy about $3 billion.