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Dysfunction, Despair, and Donald
Facing a budget disaster, a speakership battle, and a Biden impeachment that the ex-president is demanding, Republicans worry about losing the House next year.
LAST WEEK, WHEN AN MSNBC anchor played a clip of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Republican, Rep. Matt Gaetz, said, “I couldn’t tell if you cut away to Kevin McCarthy or a commercial for low T.”
It’s remarkable: McCarthy is not only Gaetz’s “leader” atop the House GOP conference, but he is third in line from the presidency. This kind of casual slagging from a member of the same party doesn’t ever happen to a speaker of the House, but for McCarthy it was just another day ending in y.
Both Republicans and Democrats expect the government to shut down next week, and the blame is bipartisan—that is, both parties agree it will be Speaker McCarthy’s fault. He showed this week that he cannot convince his members to pass the rule to proceed to the must-pass defense spending bill. He is scrambling to give his Hijack Caucus a spending bill, loaded up with their crazy goodies that will never become law, that they will accept; such a bill would pass the House to then be torpedoed by the Senate. It’s for show, not a good-faith effort to keep the government open, but McCarthy wants to supplicate himself before the hardliners for a few more days as they threaten his job.
Gaetz, one of the hijackers, has demanded the speaker come to “immediate, total compliance” with a secret, unverified deal McCarthy reportedly made with his detractors in January; if McCarthy doesn’t, they will depose him. The Florida congressman can’t produce the stipulations to the public because, he said, Rep. Chip Roy has his copy.
Rep. Steve Womack, who wants to avoid a shutdown as well as McCarthy’s ouster, described the House GOP conference this way on Monday: “It’s an unmitigated disaster right now on the majority side. Look, I’m fearful of what this leads to.”
MORE THAN THIRTEEN MONTHS before next year’s election, fatalism has infected the House GOP conference. Democrats have only a slight edge heading into next year’s House contests, but Republicans are behaving as if they have no hope of staying in power. As one former member told me: “Many would say, ‘We’ve squandered this and we’re going to lose.’”
All day long, House Republicans go on television to trash McCarthy and other members of their party. Even McCarthy let loose after the rule vote for a defense appropriations bill failed on Thursday, the second time it happened this week: “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. It doesn’t work.”
“This isn’t conservative Republicanism. This is stupidity,” Rep. Mike Lawler said on CNN Tuesday, after the rule vote failed the first time.
Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana, who has belittled McCarty as a “weak speaker,” told NewsNation this week “I do need to regroup because I think my party is failing the people.” A native of Ukraine who came to America as a child, Spartz also lamented the “lack of leadership on this issue [that has] created, now, opportunities for Russia to take advantage of our base” through propaganda.
“We’re dysfunctional. . . . It’s that simple. We are so dysfunctional,” Rep. Tim Burchett, another hardliner, said on Wednesday. Note that his admission came a day before the second vote to proceed to the defense spending bill failed during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the Capitol.
Republican donors writing big checks may want to reflect on the fact that House Republicans are not working to preserve their majority. What they are doing is creating content for Democratic campaign ads.
IT WILL JUST GET WORSE. Many of the hijackers are leaving the House anyway and are happy to throw lit matches on the way out.
Spartz is retiring from the House next year, and McCarthy’s majority is already one seat smaller after Rep. Chris Stewart just resigned mid-cycle to lobby. Rep. Matt Rosendale and Rep. Dan Bishop are seeking higher office. So, reportedly, is Gaetz: He and fellow Floridian Rep. Byron Donalds are both considering gubernatorial runs, which would pit them against each other. Bishop, Gaetz, and Rosendale are all Freedom Caucus members who batter McCarthy with regularity.
Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado admitted Tuesday to the New York Post that he was shopping for a TV contract with CNN, though on Wednesday he changed his tune and told reporters that’s not true, he’s running for re-election.
Buck likes to be on TV, and lately, he’s enjoyed dunking on the ad-hoc impeachment inquiry his party is advancing. He doesn’t use GOP talking points—You know, there’s a lot of smoke here, and Hunter is deeply corrupt. . . . Instead, delighted Democrats are sending around Buck’s appearance on MSNBC where he said there is nothing linking Biden to a high crime or misdemeanor. Even more helpful to the White House, Buck published an op-ed in the Washington Post reiterating that “what’s missing, despite years of investigation, is the smoking gun that connects Joe Biden to his ne’er-do-well son’s corruption.”
Amid the chaos, it’s easy to forget that McCarthy tried throwing an impeachment bone to his most feral members. It didn’t sate them. Now they want to shut down the government—but months from now, those same members will want a vote to impeach President Biden, a vote that McCarthy knows he will never have enough support to pass. And McCarthy knows that if he were to pressure Republicans in precarious seats—those in districts Biden won in 2020—to vote for impeachment, the GOP would lose the House over it.
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Donald Trump will certainly be demanding such an impeachment vote; he’s already been putting the pressure on Republican leadership in private. McCarthy can count on Trump keeping every no-voter in the GOP conference on speed dial. In between sprinkling copies of his “motion to vacate” the speaker’s chair in bathrooms around the Capitol, Gaetz posted a screengrab of a Trump statement on Truth Social where the former president called for federal investigations targeting him to be defunded; Gaetz accompanied the image with a warning to his colleagues to “hold the line.” Since they will never actually succeed in “defunding” Jack Smith, this means shut the government down.
McCarthy likes to dabble in humiliating performance art, but even he can’t pretend that Republicans can simply remove funding from the Department of Justice and its criminal prosecutions of Trump, the revived Holman Rule notwithstanding.
McCarthy is apparently confident Trump and the Freedom Caucus cabal can’t easily replace him as speaker—no one wants his shitty job. But the prospect of the whole House once again being stuck in the chamber voting repeatedly while technically without a speaker would mean more Democratic ads and fundraising, and more Republicans attacking each other in the media.
Que será, será. There is no way out of the implosion. Besides, meltdown mode is McCarthy’s jam. The way he sees it, you’re only speaker once.