Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday punted plans to tee up a vote on the party’s short-term spending plan later this week – the latest sign of the ultraconservative fever gripping House Republicans.
McCarthy is now left without a viable plan to fund the goverment, with just 12 days left to avoid a shutdown. A group of nearly two dozen Republicans from across the conference huddled in a GOP leadership suite midday Tuesday to seek a way out of their bind.
As those talks continue, McCarthy’s conference will face another test in the coming hours: Republican leaders will try to bring up a massive defense spending bill that stalled out last week amid conservative opposition. If the party fails to move forward, as Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) put it: “The week is gone.”
“The conference is still heavily divided,” Womack said. “I think there are personality conflicts at work involving certain members and the speaker. And this is coming down to a situation where they want to fight the speaker.”
Womack is hardly the only frustrated House Republican speaking out. Multiple GOP lawmakers used a closed-door meeting Tuesday to challenge their hardliner colleagues to suggest an alternative if they’re refusing to go along with McCarthy’s preferred approach.
Inside the room Tuesday morning, Republicans lined up at the microphone to voice their irritation with more than a dozen colleagues who oppose the proposed GOP stopgap spending bill – a package of spending cuts and stricter border policies. If House Republicans fail to pass that bill, these members warned, the Democrat-run Senate will steamroll them as Congress looks to avert a shutdown that would kick in Oct. 1.
That argument, however, does not reflect the current reality in the Senate — where Republicans are prepared to keep deferring to McCarthy for the moment.
House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), one of the negotiators who brokered the deal with leaders of the Main Street Caucus, argued that Republicans need to “stand for something,” according to a GOP member in the room. And if they are not for reining in spending, holding the administration accountable and securing the border, he argued, then the other option is to take whatever short-term spending bill the Senate passes.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), another Freedom Caucus negotiator, called on the holdouts to put forward their own ideas. He later summed up his pitch to the conference as: “If you’re a no, and you want to work on something better, let’s do that.”
McCarthy, who’s made it clear that he’s fed up with the hardliners, told reporters afterward that he still planned to bring up the Freedom Caucus-Main Street plan for a vote on Thursday — a sign that, while those plans now appear on ice, he could reverse himself at any time. The speaker indicated leaders are open to changing the deal, too, though he didn’t detail what acceptable changes might look like.
“The number one thing to do is try to get 218 for it. Sometimes you have a vote, it helps you get there,” McCarthy said.
There is perhaps one path that could break the logjam. Republican rebels are now calling for at least one specific change, which they voiced during the meeting: more cuts in the short-term spending bill, which currently shrinks certain domestic spending. They want to include the far steeper spending cuts outlined in the GOP’s own debt bill earlier this year, as well as border policies already included in the Main Street-Freedom caucus plan.
Later, in a separate meeting, the idea appeared to gain traction. Republican Study Committee Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) pitched a short-term bill that cut spending down to the levels set by the GOP debt plan during a meeting in Whip Tom Emmer’s office on Tuesday afternoon.
Hanging over the spending fight is the fate of McCarthy’s speakership, with conservatives threatening to try to boot him if he works with Democrats to avert a shutdown. The dynamic is increasingly fueling frustration among some of his allies, who worry conservatives are using a potential shutdown to further their goal to oust the Californian from leadership.
And some minds were clearly unchanged by Tuesday’s internal squabble. Leaving conference, McCarthy antagonist Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) responded to questions about the meeting: “More of the same.”