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.”
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.Campaign Action
“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?
An end to the Biden impeachment farce.
McCarthy has to abide by the budget agreement he made with Biden to resolve the debt ceiling.
McCarthy fully funds disaster relief and provides aid to Ukraine.
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.