September 30 is coming up quickly, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy has yet to come up with a viable plan to keep the government running after that date.
McCarthy is facing a revolt by a dozen or so Freedom Caucus extremists, who are encouraging the speaker to renege on the deal he made with Democrats during the debt limit debate and agree to budget cuts far beyond what was negotiated back then.
The deal-breaking has members of his own caucus up in arms, while the Democrats wait in the wings for McCarthy to drink the hemlock and ask them for votes to keep the government operating.
McCarthy would prefer not to take that route, so he’s working secretly with a few centrist lawmakers belonging to the Problem Solvers Caucus, the Republican Governance Group, and the centrist New Democrat Coalition.
“It’s got to be bipartisan anyway, at some point,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said of a solution to the shutdown crisis. He added, “So why negotiate with these five or 10 people who move the goalposts?”
Bacon is acknowledging the goalpost-moving by the handful of Freedom Caucus members — specifically, wannabe speaker Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — that makes coming to an agreement with his own caucus a near impossibility.
Generally, the bipartisan group is focusing on two major ideas: a procedural maneuver to force a vote on a compromise spending plan — or somehow crafting a bill so popular that McCarthy can pass it and survive any challenge from the right. That bill would likely be a bipartisan short-term patch with some disaster money, Ukraine aid and small-scale border policies, according to multiple people briefed on the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It’s ironic that Freedom Caucus members are threatening a motion to vacate the chair, forcing McCarthy to resign if he works with Democrats and then refusing to vote for any deal McCarthy strikes that would satisfy the vast majority of the Republican caucus.
The bottom line is that the Freedom Caucus holdouts don’t care a whit about keeping the government open. They don’t really care about cutting the budget, either. If they did, perhaps we can ask them where all these chest-thumping and blood-curdling threats about shutting down the government were when Donald Trump was president.
This is about power and the exercise of it by a group of radicals who are leveraging their small numbers to extract concessions from McCarthy. If it was all about the budget, it might be defensible. But it’s not. This is about trying to blow up McCarthy’s speakership so that in the resulting chaos, one of their own — Gaetz would love to be that person — replaces McCarthy.
Gaetz and the holdouts are hoping to create so much trouble that would lead to endless votes to replace McCarthy, that the rest of the Republican Caucus will give in and elect Gaetz out of sheer frustration.
If the Democrats join the Republicans to elect McCarthy, the speaker will lose a few more Republicans but will probably have enough combined votes to thwart Gaetz.
While the talks were borne out of the spending crisis, they have by necessity had to address another glaring problem for the speaker: Whether Democrats are also willing to protect his gavel from a vote to strip it if he ultimately does seek support across the aisle.
Privately, many Democrats say they’re willing to help the Californian with both problems, though they’ll demand concessions — and they’ll need their leader, Hakeem Jeffries, to be on board.
To be clear, any plan devised by these rank-and-file members would face serious hurdles before it got to any possible vote. But the bipartisan McCarthy-bailout conversations have only gained traction as his antagonists keep derailing his other option — a GOP-only spending patch that’s packed with conservative border policies and funding cuts.
“We’ve got a handful of people that are holding the rest of the conference, the majority of our conference kind of held hostage right now and in turn, holding up America,” he told CNN.
“House Democrats are focused on making life better for everyday Americans — solving problems on their behalf. House Republicans are focused on fighting each other,” House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries told Politico.
He and House Democrats are beginning to pop some popcorn, settle in, and watch the Republicans implode.