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Republicans in The House, Part I: A Hard Day's Night

Things continue to go poorly for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). He had a rough day, as there was a confrontation between him and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Then, as the House worked into the evening on the budget situation, things did not get better.

The Gaetz dustup involved a claim that the Speaker is paying social media influencers to say bad things about the Floridian. Anything is possible, we suppose, but that sounds like loony conspiracy theorizing to us. There's plenty of bad stuff about Gaetz on social media without McCarthy having to spend money to add to the (massive) pile. The Speaker said as much, observing that Gaetz isn't worth wasting time on, much less money. This led to some rather loud shouting, and possibly to brief fisticuffs, depending on who is telling the story. The meeting was behind closed doors, so only members of the House Republican Conference know for certain.

A few hours later, it was time for the Speaker to finally "show" that he can take this shutdown bull by the horns, and get something done. So, he scheduled votes on several spending bills. The good news for McCarthy, such as it is, is that he managed to get three bills approved by the House: State Department and Foreign Operations passed 216-212 (with all Democrats along with Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA voting against), Defense passed 218-210 (with two Democrats, Jared Golden, D-ME, and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, D-WA, voting for and two Republicans, Tim Burchett, R-TN, and Ken Buck, R-CO voting against), and Homeland Security passed 220-208 (with all Republicans, along with Golden and Gluesenkamp Pérez voting in favor).

Now the bad news. The three bills that passed the House have no real chance of passing the Senate, much less getting a presidential signature. Further, the fourth bill brought to the floor, Agriculture and FDA, failed badly, 191-237, as 27 moderate Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with the Democrats due to anti-abortion-pill language in the bill. And finally, even if one or more of these bills somehow do become law, they would not actually avert the shutdown.

The Senate continues to work on its (mostly clean) continuing resolution, but that vote is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Not likely it will pass, get sent over to the House, and pass the lower chamber in a matter of 5 or 6 hours. Meanwhile, McCarthy's plan for Friday is basically the same plan he's had several times this week. He wants to cue up a resolution that would fund the government short term, and would also have a bunch of goodies for Freedom Caucusers. However, the bill doesn't have enough of what the FCers want, so they are against it. House Democrats, the 18 Biden Republicans in the House, and the Senate are not terribly interested in the bill, either. So, it's pretty much dead on arrival.

Given that, as you read this, there are roughly 36 hours left to a shutdown, the likeliest sequence of events is becoming clear: (1) the government shuts down, (2) in view of the "emergency" and the unwillingness of the FCers to compromise, McCarthy brings the Senate resolution, or some other moderate short-term bill to the floor and gets it passed with Democratic votes, and (3) the FCers try to vacate the chair.

In view of where things appear to be headed, members in the House are already (tentatively) making plans, just in case. On the Democratic side, members are pointing out that if McCarthy alienates the Freedom Caucusers by working with Democrats on the budget, is will be in a de facto permanent partnership with the blue team, since the Democrats' votes would be needed for him to keep his job. So, they want a power-sharing agreement, wherein House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) would enjoy some of the prerogatives of the speakership. Republicans don't love that idea, but many of them ARE casting about to see if there's a candidate to succeed McCarthy who might plausibly get 218 votes.

The fall of Kevin McCarthy is not a done deal yet, of course. He might pull a rabbit out of the hat in the next 36 hours or so (and keep in mind that since the government doesn't do all that much on Sunday, a shutdown won't really start to hurt until Monday morning, giving him a de facto extra day if he needs it). Meanwhile, the FCers are impetuous and angry, and Gaetz in particular is looking to get some headlines in advance of his expected 2026 Florida gubernatorial bid. However, they will nonetheless need to think long and hard about whether to boot McCarthy, because the odds are very high that the next Speaker will be nowhere near as beholden to them and nowhere near as willing to kowtow to them. (Z)

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