McCarthy unites fractious GOP with impeachment talk

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) flirtation with impeaching President Biden is pleasing the right wing of his conference while not scaring moderates, keeping his fractious conference together while setting up the real possibility of a third presidential impeachment in less than five years.

The increased talk of impeachment comes as the GOP dives further into investigations of Hunter Biden, who on Wednesday saw his plea agreement get placed on hold after a federal judge questioned the scope of the deal.  

The drive also has heavy political implications, with attacks on Biden and his family being fertile ground ahead of the 2024 election, especially with the economy rebounding in a way that could help the White House.

But going too far poses the risk of turning off swing-district voters and endangering moderates in McCarthy’s conference. Those members back investigating Biden, but they might not support an impeachment vote. 

McCarthy’s efforts so far have threaded this needle as he insists that he will never pursue impeachment for “political purposes.”

“The Speaker has said that there may be an impeachment inquiry. That is not impeachment,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who represents a district Biden won in 2020. “That is Congress continuing its responsibilities to look into the issues that have been raised.”

“Are they producing enough facts and evidence that warrant taking it to the next step? I don't think it's there at the moment. But these committees are doing their job,” Lawler said.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), another swing district Republican, said an impeachment inquiry effort poses an electoral risk “if it looks like it's rushed and we're not doing due process and due diligence.”

“But if we're very thorough about it. … I think the voters will feel differently,” Bacon said.

In a closed-door conference meeting Wednesday, McCarthy put no timeline on starting an impeachment probe and urged members not to overstate the evidence obtained so far, according to several GOP members.

Conservatives who have been pushing for the impeachment of Biden administration officials generally offered support for McCarthy’s approach as they try to pull the Speaker to the right on a host of other policy and spending matters.

“I don’t think there’s any question that him speaking to that has caused a paradigm shift,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said of McCarthy floating an impeachment inquiry.

McCarthy and other Republicans point to numerous issues they see stemming from information compiled from IRS whistleblowers who allege prosecutors slow-walked the Hunter Biden tax crime investigation, and from financial records they obtained that show President Biden falsely denied his family made money from China.

“Let's just say there's a whole hell of a lot of smoke, and our job is to present the fire,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), adding he would support an impeachment inquiry against Biden.

Not all conservatives are pleased, though. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) sees impeachment talk as a distraction from the right flank’s push to get McCarthy to agree to lower spending levels in appropriations bills.

“This is impeachment theater,” Buck said on CNN Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s responsible for us to talk about impeachment. When you start raising the 'I' word, it starts sending a message to the public, and it sets expectations.”

Republicans have not proven President Biden was part of any of Hunter Biden’s business activities, interfered in his criminal case, or directly financially benefited from his son’s foreign business dealings. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has repeatedly said the president “was never in business with his son.

And Ian Sams, White House spokesperson for oversight and investigations, tweeted on Monday night that McCarthy was focusing on impeachment inquiry “instead of focusing on the real issues Americans want us to address like continuing to lower inflation or create jobs.”

McCarthy suggested a potential impeachment inquiry could not center directly on those issues, but instead on the Biden administration’s cooperation with the House GOP probes.

“If the departments in government, just like Richard Nixon used, deny us the ability to get the information we’re asking, that would rise to an impeachment inquiry,” McCarthy said on Tuesday.

Republicans also argue the weight of a formal impeachment inquiry would give the House more power to get the information it seeks from its various investigations.

“If we don't have access to the information, then you do have to escalate the oversight of the House,” Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.), another Biden-district Republican, echoed after a GOP conference meeting on Wednesday.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that when he was chairman of the House Judiciary Committee setting up impeachment of former President Donald Trump four years ago, his theory that an impeachment inquiry would give more weight to enforcing subpoenas did not pan out.

“We thought that it puts the weight of the House behind the request, not just the weight of a committee,” Nadler said. “It didn’t work.”

Democrats are scoffing at the GOP impeachment effort. Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison suggested McCarthy’s interest in impeaching Biden was a way for him to do the “bidding” of Trump — though McCarthy told reporters Tuesday he had not talked to the former president about a potential impeachment inquiry.

“I don't think that they've been prevented from getting information that they want. I think the biggest problem they have is all of the information that they've gotten does not support their overreaching and unsubstantiated conclusions and allegations,” said Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.). “He is using that as an excuse to start an impeachment inquiry without any evidence of wrongdoing.”

And while the House GOP conference is largely lining up behind McCarthy as he floats impeachment for now, there is potential for frustrations to flare if members resist efforts to move forward on an actual inquiry in the future.

“At this point, I don't know how there can’t be support for it. Any Republican that can't move forward on impeachment with all the information and overwhelming evidence that we have — I really don't know why they're here, to be honest with you,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). 

McCarthy races to repair relationship with Trump

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is racing to mend fences with former President Trump after the GOP leader questioned Trump’s strength as a 2024 presidential contender — a comment he quickly walked back amid blowback from Trump world.

The Speaker’s cleanup effort — which has so far included a direct call to Trump, a subsequent media interview declaring Trump to be the strongest candidate, and an email blast to would-be donors amplifying that message — has illustrated the political dangers facing GOP leaders as they seek to balance Trump’s vast popularity against the baggage of his legal and ethical travails heading into the elections.

McCarthy’s scramble also reflects the influence Trump continues to wield among Republicans in the House, where more than 60 GOP lawmakers have already endorsed him in the presidential primary.

And it’s highlighted the fragile relationship between Trump and McCarthy, who needed the support of the former president to win the Speaker’s gavel in January and wants to remain in Trump’s good graces amid an internal battle with GOP hard-liners still wary of McCarthy’s commitment to conservative priorities.

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All of those factors appeared to collide during an interview with CNBC on Tuesday morning, when McCarthy — while noting that Trump can beat Biden in 2024 — said he was unsure if the former president was the “strongest” candidate to do so, sparking pushback from some on the right and reportedly angering those in the former president's orbit.

McCarthy quickly entered cleanup mode. Within hours, he had told the conservative Breitbart News in an interview that “Trump is stronger today than he was in 2016,” sent out sent out fundraising blasts that declared Trump “Biden’s strongest opponent” and, according to The New York Times, placed a call to Trump for a conversation that sources characterized as an apology.

The stunning episode — which played out in less than 24 hours — highlights the delicate balancing act McCarthy is forced to perform when it comes to matters involving Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner who helped him secure the Speaker’s gavel in January and still holds a firm grip on much of the House Republican conference.

But whether or not McCarthy’s efforts Wednesday were enough to land him back in Trump’s good graces remains to be seen.

Politico reported Wednesday that Trump’s team — which is known for controlling who is allowed to raise money off the ex-president’s name — asked McCarthy to remove his fundraising pitch that mentioned Trump, a blast that was part of his damage control.

Trump himself, however, has not yet commented on McCarthy’s 180.

A Trump-world source acknowledged there was “certainly annoyance” with McCarthy’s comment on CNBC but added that Trump was “pleased” with the Speaker’s Breitbart interview, suggesting that reports of severe tensions were exaggerated.

“I think some of this has been overblown. While there was certainly annoyance over his comment, it wasn’t lost on people that the bulk of the interview was McCarthy defending Trump, and most importantly, Trump himself was pleased with the interview McCarthy gave Breitbart yesterday,” the source said.

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Congressional Republicans also sought to downplay the rift.

Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.), one of the GOP lawmakers who revolted against Republican House leadership earlier this month, suggested that McCarthy meant it would be difficult to name Trump the strongest candidate now, when the Republican field is still developing.

“Does another candidate rise and show that sort of personality, that sort of strength of character that he would be willing to take on the swamp? That’s yet to be seen. And I think that’s what Kevin was saying, is this is a long time that we’re gonna see between now and the primary elections,” Buck told CNN in an interview Tuesday night.

“And so it’s hard to say that Donald Trump is gonna be the strongest candidate in the future. It’s really a hypothetical and calls for speculation. But right now, Donald Trump is definitely the strongest candidate,” he added.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.)

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) arrives for an event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Greg Nash)

Like McCarthy himself, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — a close ally of both Trump and the Speaker — pinned the conflict on the media, accusing reporters of blowing GOP divisions out of proportion.

“The media’s specialty is dividing Republicans. It’s time for Republicans to stop being sucked into playing the dumb game. Defeat the Democrat’s America Last agenda and save America,” Greene wrote on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.

Democrats, for their part, see McCarthy’s backtrack as more evidence of the strong influence Trump has on the Speaker and his GOP conference.

“Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene, they control the Republican Party and, you know, you can see it every day,” Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) told The Hill on Wednesday. “Kevin McCarthy can barely hold on to his Speakership, and so he is going to, you know, bow down to whatever Donald Trump wants him to do — I mean, you saw a good example of that in that back-and-forth.”

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.)

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) speaks during a Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs hearing with a quotation from the Office of the Inspector General behind him at the Capitol on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

The relationship between Trump and McCarthy has been complicated since the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, for which Trump was impeached. McCarthy, then the House minority leader, voted against that impeachment but also accused Trump of bearing “responsibility” for the rampage.

Yet when most Republicans, including those in Congress, made clear they were sticking behind Trump, McCarthy quickly reversed course, visiting Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida a few weeks later to patch things up — a recognition that he needed Trump’s support to rise to the Speakership. 

The more recent squabble between Trump and McCarthy comes after somewhat of a honeymoon period between the two top Republicans.

Shortly after McCarthy secured the speaker’s gavel in January — following a 15-ballot vote — the California Republican thanked Trump for helping him win the top job, telling reporters, “I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence.”

In a now-infamous photo, Greene is seen handing a phone on a call with “DT” to Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), one of McCarthy’s detractors.

And earlier this month, when McCarthy struck a deal with Biden to raise the debt limit, Trump did not join other conservatives in criticizing the deal — as other 2024 GOP candidates did — sparing McCarthy from the challenge of wrangling enough votes amid Trump's opposition.

McCarthy, meanwhile, has appeared to pay back the favor in his first six months as Speaker, catering to Trump’s best interests on a number of occasions.

His committee chairmen launched an investigation into Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg after he indicted Trump, requested information from special counsel Jack Smith as he closed in on his own charges and, just last week, McCarthy endorsed an effort to expunge Trump’s first and second impeachments.

“It should never have gone through,” he said of both impeachment votes. 

Brett Samuels contributed.

GOP unrest: Conservatives threaten to tank party’s 2024 spending bills

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is seeking to appease his conservative agitators by targeting next year’s federal spending at last year’s levels.

It’s not going well. 

A long list of conservatives left Washington this week accusing McCarthy and other GOP leaders of using budgetary “gimmicks” to create the false impression that they’re cutting 2024 outlays back to 2022 levels, rather than adopting the fundamental budget changes to realize those reductions and rein in deficit spending over the long haul.

The hard-liners are already threatening to oppose their own party’s spending bills when they hit the House floor later this year, undermining the Republicans’ leverage in the looming budget fight while heightening the chances of a government shutdown. 

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The internal clash would also be an enormous headache for the Speaker, who’s already under fire from conservatives for his handling of the debt ceiling debate and faces intense pressure to hold the line on spending in the coming battle over government funding.

“He's not doing ‘22 spending levels; he’s talking ‘22 spending levels,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), former head of the far-right Freedom Caucus, said Thursday. “Talk is cheap.”

Biggs and a number of other conservatives fear that GOP appropriators intend to use a budgetary tool known as a rescission in the drafting of their 2024 spending bills. Rescissions essentially claw back spending that Congress has already appropriated for future programs, allowing appropriators to claim they're funding the government at one level while actually spending at another. The hard-liners say that mechanism will lead to higher deficits than they're ready to support. 

“The idea of saying that we’re marking to 2022, but we're going to buy up to 2023 marks with rescissions, just — to me that's disingenuous,” Biggs said. 

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.)

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters before a press conference held by the House Freedom Caucus regarding the proposed Biden-McCarthy debt limit deal on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), another Freedom Caucus member, agreed. 

“My understanding is they're going to use ‘23 numbers, and then through rescissions, get back to ‘22 numbers. So if they don't get the rescission, then they don’t get the ‘22 number,” Buck said. “The whole predicate is, ‘We're going to do this with rescissions,’ and then the rescissions don't happen, and then everyone says, ‘Well, that wasn't my fault.’”

Buck said he hasn’t voted for any appropriations bill “in a long time.” And without more drastic cuts and fundamental structural changes, he’ll likely oppose this year’s bills, too. 

“To go off the cliff at the ‘22 pace is not much different to me than going off the cliff at the ‘23 pace,” he said.

The opposition is significant because Democrats are already up in arms that McCarthy is targeting 2024 spending figures below the caps he negotiated with President Biden in this month's debt ceiling agreement. They’re vowing to oppose any appropriations bills that fall below those figures — leaving McCarthy with little room for GOP defections given the Republicans' slim House majority. 

“It's our view that a resolution was reached, and was voted on in a bipartisan way, and at the end of the day, any spending agreement that is arrived at by the end of the year has to be consistent with the resolution of the default crisis,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday in the Capitol. 

“Otherwise, what was it all for?”

The issue of government spending has been at the center of the battle this year between McCarthy and the hard-line conservatives, who had sought in January to win a promise from the Speaker to cut 2024 spending down to 2022 levels — a reduction of roughly $130 billion from current spending. The conservatives were furious that, as part of this month’s debt ceiling deal between McCarthy and Biden, next year’s spending came in above that figure, essentially frozen at 2023 levels with a 1 percent increase slated for 2025. 

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McCarthy has responded by claiming the topline figure he negotiated with Biden was merely a ceiling, not an objective. He’s instructed appropriators to target 2024 funding below that cap, and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, announced this week that she’ll do just that. 

“The Fiscal Responsibility Act set a topline spending cap – a ceiling, not a floor – for Fiscal Year 2024 bills,” Granger said in a statement Monday. “That is why I will use this opportunity to mark-up appropriations bills that limit new spending to the Fiscal Year 2022 topline level.”

Yet the conservatives are far from convinced. 

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) hailed Granger for putting out the statement. “But what I'm hearing,” he quickly added, “is that the intention is to claim 2022 [levels], and then utilize rescissions to take it back up to 2023, and claim that's some kind of a victory.” 

“We need true 2022 levels, and then we ought to be utilizing targeted cuts and rescissions to go beneath that, not pretend 2022 levels plussed-up with rescissions,” he said.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.)

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) speaks to reporters as he heads to the House Chamber for a series of votes on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (Greg Nash)

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) delivered a similar warning this week, saying the key issue is “the paradigm around what constitutes 2022 spending levels.”

“We don't think you oughta be able to buy your way into those spending levels with rescissions. We think that you ought to appropriate to that level. Because if you're only able to get to the 2022 levels with rescissions, then the budgetary process is void of the programmatic reforms that are necessary,” Gaetz said. 

“My concern with [Granger's] statement is that it seems still that 2022 levels are a term of art, rather than a term of math,” he continued. “I'm worried that Chair Granger's statement reflects a willingness to only get to 2022 spending levels through rescissions, which is not going to be palatable for my crew.”

Neither Granger’s office nor McCarthy’s responded to requests for comment Thursday.

The conservative criticisms have raised new questions about McCarthy’s ability to keep the confidence of his restive conference while cutting deals with Democrats to fund the government and prevent a shutdown. The Speaker has said the hard-liners are being unrealistic about governing in a divided Washington — but his arguments have failed to make those conservatives back down. 

“Nobody wants a shutdown,” Gaetz said. “But we’re not gonna vote for budgetary gimmicks and deception as a strategy for funding the government.”

Mychael Schnell contributed. 

Five dramatic, colorful moments from McCarthy’s Speakership fight

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was elected Speaker of the House early Saturday morning, after weeks of haggling and a historic 15 roll call votes on the floor.

The lengthy Speakership fight — the first in a century to go past one ballot — played out largely in front of the public, as members repeatedly voted and sometimes negotiated on the floor of the House before C-SPAN’s cameras.

The battle for Speaker, particularly its culmination on Friday night and Saturday morning, produced a number of memorable moments. Here are five of the most dramatic and colorful:

Republicans rush back to Washington

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) embraces Rep.-elect Wesley Hunt (R-Texas)

Two Republican congressmen — Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Wesley Hunt (R-Texas) — rushed back to the Capitol on Friday to vote for McCarthy.

Buck had said he would return for Friday evening votes after being gone during the day for a “non-emergency medical procedure” he had to undergo back in his home state.

But Hunt had to change his plans. He returned home to Texas Friday morning to spend time with his wife and newborn son, who was born prematurely on Monday and spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“Willie needs his father and Emily needs her husband,” Hunt said in a tweet. “Today, I’ll be returning home to hold my son and be at my wife’s side. It’s my intention to get back into the fight as soon as possible.”

Both were McCarthy supporters and McCarthy's Speaker math meant he needed both of their votes to prevail.

Hunt flew back to Washington later Friday and was in the chamber in time to vote the first time his name was called, while Buck arrived in time to vote when they circled back to his name.

Both received a round of applause from their Republican colleagues.

Lawmaker physically restrained by colleague

Rep. Michael D. Rogers (R-Ala.) is taken away form Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)

Perhaps the more tense — and chaotic — moment of the night came after McCarthy lost his 14th Speakership vote, one Republicans were confident would be their last.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was among the last lawmakers to vote and because only one of the other five holdout Republicans — Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) — had changed their vote to "present," a "present" vote from Gaetz wouldn't be enough to put McCarthy over the finish. McCarthy needed an affirmative vote from the Florida Republican.

Gaetz voted "present."

With tensions rising, a heated argument broke out between Gaetz and several McCarthy backers and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) appeared to take a step toward Gaetz before he was physically pulled back by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), eliciting gasps in the chamber.

Greene gets Trump on the line

As chaos ensued between then 14th and 15th votes, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had President Trump on the phone in an effort to whip the final votes for McCarthy.

A widely-circulated photo from Friday night showed Greene holding up her phone to Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), one the last six Republican holdouts. Rosendale appeared to refuse the phone call, whose caller ID read “DT.”

Greene later confirmed to The Hill that the phone call was in fact from Trump. 

“It was the perfect phone call,” she added in a post on Twitter, a reference to Trump's comment about the phone call at the center of his first impeachment.

Trump also reportedly called other Republican holdouts on behalf of McCarthy and McCarthy credited Trump for helping him win the 15th ballot.

Republicans rush to stay in session after McCarthy apparently locks down votes

House Republicans rush to change their vote to adjourn

With Republicans seemingly at an impasse after a 14th failed vote, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) moved to adjourn the House until Monday. 

The motion seemed to have enough GOP support to pass, but then McCarthy and other Republicans rushed to the dais to their change votes and stay in session.

McCarthy had seemingly locked down the votes he needed.

Several Republican lawmakers chanted “one more time” in anticipation of what would be the 15th and final ballot. With all six Republican holdouts changing their vote to "present," McCarthy was able to secure the Speakership with 216 votes just after midnight on Saturday.  

Democrats troll their Republican colleagues

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)

As Republican infighting continued throughout the week, Democrats watched with a level of amusement, frequently mocking their GOP counterparts.

Several Democratic members brought out buckets of popcorn amid the drawn-out process.

"We are breaking the popcorn out in the Dem Caucus till the Republicans get their act together," Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said in a Twitter post on Tuesday, accompanied by a picture of large bucket of popcorn.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) was seen during Friday's votes sitting and reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F---” by Mark Manson.

After McCarthy clinched the Speakership on Saturday morning, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) also appeared to take a jab at the Republican conference, calling it an honor to “finally” welcome members to the 118th Congress.