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House Republican Conference: Breakfast Feud

Things are moving quickly in the soap opera that is As The House Turns. On Tuesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tried to toss a bone to the Freedom Caucus, ordering that an investigation into impeaching Joe Biden be launched. On Wednesday morning, the FCers were up bright and early, probably even before they'd finished... whatever it is they eat for breakfast (Scrapple? Waffles from Waffle House? Liberal tears?). And they held a press conference to make clear that impeachment is a side show, and that they will not be put off what they really care about, which is the budget.

To give a sense of how crazy the FCers are on this issue, we will quote the linked Slate article:

"Let me be very clear: I will not continue to fund a government at war with the American people," Texas Rep. Chip Roy, the spicy policy chair of the Freedom Caucus, said.

And which government departments and agencies are the aggressors? It might be easier to ask Chip Roy which ones aren't. He said the Defense Department is "turning our military into a social engineering experiment wrapped in a uniform." The Food and Drug Administration is approving COVID boosters for children, "and we haven't even had clinical trials." The Inflation Reduction Act is handing out tax credits to "rich leftists" and the "Chinese Communist Party." The Justice Department is "advancing a politicized form of justice," targeting "President Trump" and "dads." And then, of course, there's the Southern border.

"How many girls have to get sold in the sex trafficking trade before this body"—he pointed at the Capitol—"will wake up and stop an out-of-control president? Enough! Why would we fund that?"

And remember, this is just one member of the FC. In any event, as any reader of this site knows, there is "reality." And then there is "political reality," in which a much reduced list of things is possible. Roy is not in touch with either form of reality. Virtually nothing he says here is even remotely plausible, politically, and much of it outright bat**it crazy. This is no basis for sausage-making.

In fairness to the Freedom Caucus (not a phrase we write very often), McCarthy's game here was obvious. An impeachment "investigation" (or blue-ribbon panel, or fact-finding team, or whatever) is just an empty gesture. Anytime a politician announces their intent to preliminarily look into possibly doing something on a provisional basis, maybe, then they aren't actually doing anything concrete and everyone knows it. In this case, there is zero chance that the votes for impeachment are there, and so the gesture is doubly empty. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he sees that the whole thing is "a mirage" and that McCarthy "has no real intent to follow through" on impeachment.

McCarthy, for his part, is more cautious than the FCers. So, while they responded to the impeachment "bone" before breakfast on Wednesday, he waited all the way until lunchtime Thursday to share his response to their press conference. At the regularly scheduled House GOP lunch meeting, he apparently blew his stack and told the FCers that if they want to try to vacate the chair (i.e., fire him), then they should "move the fu**ing motion." Needless to say, we can't wait to see what dinnertime on Friday brings (suppertime for our Southern readers).

As a matter of basic strategy, McCarthy was 100% correct to call the FCers out on their bluster. First because, in addition to bluster, it may also be a bluff. The FC gets to play this trump card (pun intended) one time. If it fails, then their power is effectively broken. If it succeeds, then it is very unlikely that another Republican speaker will agree to the terms that McCarthy did, even if it takes months for that speaker to get chosen. Actually, that would-be speaker would presumably just do what McCarthy would not, and find a way to get the necessary number of Democratic votes to render the FCers moot.

And that brings us to a second point. We've tended to assume that if the FCers move to vacate, the Democrats will join them in voting to remove McCarthy, so as to create chaos, a black eye for the GOP, etc. And while that might well happen, it's no slam dunk. Reader B.R. in Eatontown, NJ, wrote in with the counterpoint:

The Democrats under Biden ran in 2020 and 2022 as the party that can actually govern, and I can't imagine that Biden plans to change that song in any way in 2024. But if the blue team votes to take down McCarthy (particularly when it's as clear as it is that no one else could do better in that job, given the gap between the FC and the rest of the Republican caucus), then they will come across not as people interested in governing but rather as just another group of petulant children who would rather destroy than build. So much for pitching themselves as the party that can govern.

Furthermore, if the Democrats do that, they will share the blame with the FC for the problems that result—including the fact that government is shut down due to a lack of a continuing resolution. As you have written, the FC right now apparently believes that it won't be them blamed for the shutdown—and I share your assessment that they are completely wrong in that belief. But if the Democrats then join with them in removing McCarthy, they will become equally exposed with the FC. So much for pitching the Republicans generally as being so crazy they'd shut down the government—with the resultant loss of governmental benefits that many folks receive.

Furthermore, there seems to be some belief that even if McCarthy is removed the House could still continue to operate. While committees probably could meet, and other such lesser functions could continue, I can't imagine that anything could reach the floor for a vote without a Speaker. If nothing else, the FC folks will prevent it. And given what happened in January, does anyone really think that a replacement speaker would be elected promptly? Personally, I think the impasse would go on for months. And if, during that time, Biden could get absolutely nothing done, the FC folks would be dancing in the streets.

It seems to me that if the FC challenges McCarthy, the only smart move for the Democrats is to abstain, saying that it is an intra-party dispute among the Republicans and only they can solve it. Indeed, if I was Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), I would probably have the bulk of the Democratic caucus not even be on the floor—just one or two members present so that they could demand a quorum call if necessary—with the rest ready to report on a moment's notice.

Good analysis, B.R.!

So again, McCarthy was right to throw down the gauntlet. He can't do his job under these conditions, so better to take this to its denouement, whatever that might be. At worst, he ends up in a cushy K Street job at five times the salary.

We don't know where this internecine struggle is headed, but we do know that it's already causing casualties. Money for the Department of Defense is supposed to be the one thing that all Republicans (and most Democrats) can agree upon. However, the latest defense bill had to be pulled from the schedule due to a temper tantrum rebellion by the FCers. Maybe they get on the same page tomorrow, or maybe they never do. We are now just over 2 weeks from a government shutdown if they don't, however, and it's going to be even harder to pin that on the Democrats if the FCers are all over the right-wing media channels talking about what an a**hole McCarthy is. (Z)

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