Democrats could bail out flailing McCarthy, for a price

It’s only a matter of time before tensions in the House Republican conference boil over into a physical brawl. For now, they’re just verbal fights, like Freedom Caucus guy Eli Crane of Arizona fundraising by calling his colleagues who don’t want to shut down the government “squishes,” and those other members taking exception to it.

Others have been threatening to help primary members like freshman Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, who threatens them back, saying (according to CNN’s chyron) that they’re “stuck on stupid.”

GOP Rep. Mike Lawler on Republicans warning against working with Democrats: “Bring it. Give me a break. I’m in a district that Joe Biden won by 10 points...I was elected to be an adult, to be serious, to be sober and to govern."

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) September 27, 2023

Some of these would-be moderates are threatening to work with Democrats. “If you got five to 10 holdouts, you’ve got to have a bipartisan bill, just by definition with a four-seat majority. So, I know we got to reach across the aisle and make this work,” Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska said after a Wednesday conference meeting.

So far, House Democrats appear happy to watch the melee from the sidelines, not feeling any particular need to make life easier for Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who reneged on the budget deal he had agreed to with President Joe Biden. “Every Democrat on the [Appropriations] committee felt betrayed” by McCarthy, Rep. David Trone of Maryland said recently.

The Democrats have power, though McCarthy isn’t acknowledging that. He needs them to solve the shutdown impasse because he simply doesn’t have Republican votes to do it. After he surely gets their help rescuing the government, he’ll need help saving his own political skin and fighting off a hard-liner attempt to oust him.

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“The only person concerned about Kevin McCarthy keeping his job is Kevin McCarthy,” House Minority Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts told Politico. “House Democrats are having one conversation: how to deliver for the American people. That means preventing a reckless shutdown and stopping devastating cuts to the programs they rely on.”

Once the nihilist Republicans get what they want and force a shutdown, what should Democrats extract from McCarthy—and from the so-called moderate Republicans who are looking for their help—to fix it? That’s precisely what Democratic leadership should be mulling right now. Especially if Republicans move to oust McCarthy.

Democrats should start with a big ask from those Republicans who want their help: a power-sharing agreement with Democrats that puts Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries in the speaker’s chair. After all, he consistently won more votes for speaker than McCarthy did through the 15-round vote marathon. The Republicans’ tiny margin of just five votes, and at least half a dozen ready to kick McCarthy out at any given moment, make McCarthy’s continued tenure iffy at best. Jeffries in the chair could give the majority of the Republican conference some occasional wins, something they won’t get from McCarthy.

There’s also the question of who else among the Republicans would want the job. The answer is no one. Jeffries is the obvious choice.

Assuming that Jeffries doesn’t want (or get) the job and that McCarthy comes to him for help in saving the government and keeping his speakership, what should Democrats demand then?

  1. An end to the Biden impeachment farce.

  2. McCarthy has to abide by the budget agreement he made with Biden to resolve the debt ceiling.

  3. McCarthy fully funds disaster relief and provides aid to Ukraine.

  4. McCarthy puts legislation in place to prevent another government shutdown next year on the floor.

Those should be the minimum demands. Doing those things would allow Congress and the government to operate at a functional level for the next year. It’s not too much to ask in a rational world. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine McCarthy, still in thrall of the Freedom Caucus, stepping up to that level of basic competence.


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In 15 days, funding for all federal government operations will expire, barring a miracle (or House Speaker Kevin McCarthy having a personality transplant that turns him into a competent leader, which puts us back in miracle territory). A guy who lets people like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz pressure him into trying to impeach President Joe Biden based on the hallucinations of Rudy Giuliani isn’t likely to transform into a competent strategist.

The House returned from its six-week August recess Tuesday afternoon ready to do one of the easiest things Congress ever has to accomplish: spending a lot of money on the Pentagon. They failed—massively—as the extremist zealots refused to let the bill come to the floor. They didn’t do it because they’re opposed to the bill. They did it because they can, as a power flex.

No one in the House seems capable of coming up with a plan to stop them. “It’s stupid,” Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson complained to Politico. “We’ve been seeing this coming for the last three or four months. I just didn’t think we were dumb enough to get there,” he said. Simpson should know better, coming from Idaho of all places, the sinkhole of GOP stupidity.

Another senior GOP member told Semafor that what happened with the “Five Families” in the “Godfather” movies is coming. “The whole family kills each other,” they said. “I think we’re close to that right now. We are in maybe the Godfather II stage.” The member is probably referring to the fact that GOP leadership in the House decided to emulate “The Godfather” by calling the various factions in the House the “Five Families.” For real. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies.

Two of those five are working on a supposed solution. A few members of both the Main Street Caucus, made up of supposed moderates, and the Freedom Caucus started meeting Wednesday to hatch some sort of stopgap funding plan, including spending cuts and border security funding.

Since Freedom Caucus guy Chip Roy of Texas is one of the negotiators, don’t expect it to work. What he’s in it for is a shutdown that they can blame on the Senate. He admitted it.

SHUTDOWN: @chiproytx says at Family Research Council he views a shutdown as inevitable because of Senate intransigence. He says GOP uniting around push for border policy changes as reason for fight

— Erik Wasson (@elwasson) September 15, 2023

The Senate will not accept a stopgap bill or a continuing resolution that slashes funding. For one thing, it’s called a continuing resolution because what it does is continue current funding. Roy knows that. His whole group knows that. A shutdown is exactly what the Freedom Caucus wants, for whatever reason.

“We’re going to have a shutdown, it’s just a matter of how long,” GOP @RepRalphNorman says. “We believe in what we are doing. The jury will be the country. And the jury is fed up with reckless spending.”

— Ben Siegel (@bensiegel) September 14, 2023

The “jury” does not want that. Seventy-one percent of Republicans “believe a government shutdown this fall would hurt the economy,” according to the latest polling from Navigator Research. Other Republicans understand that. “Have we ever not got blamed for a shutdown? ... I’m worried about the basic functions of government,” said Republican Rep. Kelly Armstrong of South Dakota.

Making matters even worse for McCarthy, he lost another vote Friday when Rep. Chris Stewart’s planned resignation was supposed to take effect. That leaves just a four-vote margin for McCarthy.

The glaring solution—and the inevitable one—is reaching out and compromising for Democratic votes. It’s the only way this gets solved. But at this point, it’s going to take Republicans reaping the disaster of a shutdown to force them to do it.

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What do you do if you're associated with one of the biggest election fraud scandals in recent memory? If you're Republican Mark Harris, you try running for office again! On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we revisit the absolutely wild story of Harris' 2018 campaign for Congress, when one of his consultants orchestrated a conspiracy to illegally collect blank absentee ballots from voters and then had his team fill them out before "casting" them. Officials wound up tossing the results of this almost-stolen election, but now Harris is back with a new bid for the House—and he won't shut up about his last race, even blaming Democrats for the debacle.