House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is fighting a civil war on two fronts: with his own House caucus and with Senate Republicans. It’s a war of his own making, the result of courting and catering to the radical House Freedom Caucus, who will accept nothing less than total control of the whole congressional agenda. The rebellion on Tuesday from 11 of the hard-liners proved that, and provided a preview of the big battles yet to come.
That handful of Republicans shut down the House Tuesday when for the first time in 21 years they defeated a “rule,” the procedural vote that sets out debate plans and puts a bill on the floor. Defeating a rule vote is the equivalent of a Senate majority turning on leadership and filibustering a priority bill. It just doesn’t happen—until this week, when the maniacs organized enough to flex that muscle. They weren’t organized enough to have a cohesive message as to why they did it originally, but now they’ve proven to themselves and everyone else that they can do it. That means the threat of doing it again is very real.
The disarray from Tuesday’s revolt stretched into Wednesday, when House leadership was left without a plan for going forward. McCarthy valiantly tried to put some lipstick on that procedural pig in a tortured argument about how this would cause the media to underestimate him again and make his eventual victory seem bigger. “So in the end, when I look back, this may be a very big positive thing,” he blustered. Sure, Kev.
This fight is over a minor bill—trying to prevent the Biden administration from regulating gas stoves—but there are major, must-pass bills coming. Twelve appropriations bills must be completed before the end of the calendar year to avoid across-the-board cuts to everything. Part of the extremists’ rebellion is the claim that McCarthy promised them the debt ceiling bill would revert spending to 2022 levels. McCarthy's agreement with President Biden does not do that, and that’s a “betrayal” the maniacs will not let go of. The appropriations fights (and a potential government shutdown) will only be resolved if the rest of the Republican House—including McCarthy—rebuffs the maniacal minority and decides to work with Democrats. The prospects for that don’t look good so far. McCarthy spent a good deal of Tuesday evening meeting with and apparently trying to appease the rebels, a process that extended into Wednesday.
Beyond keeping the government operating, the massive five-year farm bill is due this year. It sets a wide array of food assistance, environmental, and economic policy, so it’s a big target for extremist mischief. Senate Republicans have proven to be pretty moderate when it comes to the farm bill, even supporting expanded food assistance programs in order to keep the thing running smoothly. American farms are going to be just one more field in the Republican civil war.
McConnell has already engaged on another front with McCarthy: defense spending and military aid to Ukraine. McCarthy summarily ruled out doing any supplemental or emergency spending bills for defense on Monday beyond what was included in the debt ceiling agreement. McConnell took to the floor Tuesday to counter him, arguing current funding is “simply insufficient given the major challenges that our nation faces,” including “growing threats from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and terrorists emboldened by America’s retreat from Afghanistan.”
There likely will be an effort from Republicans to divert funding within the agreement from other domestic programs to defense, but they would have to get enough Democrats on board to be able to do that, and that’s a big stretch. The only reason the debt ceiling agreement got as many Democratic votes as it did is that it was the debt ceiling—they weren’t going to risk economic catastrophe. McCarthy can’t expect more than a few Democrats to be willing to do him any favors on anything else.
In fact, House Democrats are already taking on their vulnerable Republican colleagues, trying to drive the wedge deeper between them and the handful of maniacs who’ve been trying to run the show. “As part of the fallout over McCarthy’s failure to deliver the Freedom Caucus-endorsed Default on America Act, extreme MAGA Republicans are demanding new promises from the Speaker,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says in a new memo. “To satisfy those radicals, McCarthy is advancing a far-right and wildly unpopular legislative agenda that not only fails to deliver for everyday families struggling to make ends meet, but endangers his most vulnerable members – particularly those in districts President Biden won in 2020.”
If McCarthy can ever get the House running again, he wants to pivot to tax cuts, because of course he does. After months of screaming about deficits as the excuse for taking the debt ceiling hostage, cutting out more revenue is the first thing Republicans want to do. The DCCC memo characterizes this effort as “Fast tracking the GOP Tax Scam 2.0 to give tax giveaways to the wealthy and well-connected while protecting tax cheats.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate is willing to engage on taxes to a degree, as long as it comes with help for families who need it. That includes re-upping the COVID-era monthly child tax credit payments that lifted millions of kids out of poverty, only to see those gains cruelly lost when the program expired.
Working with Democrats, however, is what got McCarthy into such hot water with the extremists. It’s his only way out on just about every issue. Until he and the not-MAGA, non-Freedom Caucus majority of Republicans come around to the idea that they need to ally with Democrats in this war, chaos will reign.
We talk about the field of Republicans willing to go up against the MAGA monster that is Trump. It’s a veritable who cares of the Republican Party, but it is also indicative of the rot inside of the conservative world.
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