House Speaker Kevin McCarthy suffered yet another loss on Thursday, one that no speaker should ever experience. Five of his Republican colleagues rebelled against sending the defense appropriations bill to the floor, and blocked it. Again. These things aren’t supposed to happen in the House. Speakers don’t put a bill on the floor when they don’t have the votes locked up. A controlling bloc of the majority doesn’t vote against leadership. Republicans don’t vote against defense spending.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi is right: As speaker, she didn’t lose any rule votes—the procedural vote that kicks off consideration of a bill—because she didn’t put them on the floor without knowing she had the votes locked up. In fact, until McCarthy, it had been more than two decades since a rule vote failed on the floor. McCarthy has managed to do it three times in four months, and twice just this week.
Last week, McCarthy intended to put both the defense appropriations bill and a stopgap government funding bill on the floor in tandem. That quickly fell apart when the extremists in his raucous caucus made it clear they wouldn’t sign on, and he was forced to pull both from the floor—the smart thing to do.
The not-smart thing to do was to come back this week and try to put defense appropriations back on the floor without having worked out a plan with his hard-liners on government funding—or anything else. Which is exactly what McCarthy did Tuesday. He lost when GOP Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Ken Buck of Colorado, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, and Matt Rosendale of Montana all voted no.
The really not-smart thing to do was to try it again just two days later. This time around, it was Biggs, Bishop, and Rosendale again, joined by Reps. Eli Crane of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia (so much for her being McCarthy’s ally). Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, chairman of the Rules Committee, also voted no in a process move so that he can bring the bill to the floor in the future.
Greene drew a new line in the sand on the bill: All funding in it that might go to Ukraine has to be split out. Now, if McCarthy wants to get Greene back on board, leadership has to go back to the Rules Committee and rewrite it, stripping out anything to do with Ukraine aid. Even doing that is no guarantee that McCarthy can get everyone else on board—or even get enough votes to let the defense bill pass.
Again, this is defense spending. Republicans are hating on the troops. This is the House McCarthy built. House Republicans can’t even fund the military.
At this point, the hard-liners are toying with McCarthy just because they can. Unless he gets wise—and soon—a government shutdown is inevitable. It’s all they will allow. McCarthy’s only option to stop them is to work with Democrats.
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