WASHINGTON ― Republican infighting reached new heights this week as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy engaged in a war of words with conservative hard-liners on his right flank.
Republicans in the Senate watched their counterparts in the House with dismay as internal squabbles over spending put McCarthy’s future as speaker in doubt and increased the odds of a government shutdown at the end of the month.
“It’s a shitshow in the House. It’s always a shitshow in the House,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “Eventually, what’s going to happen is a government shutdown, [and it] will not go well for us.”
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) was equally blunt about the situation during an interview with NBC: “It’s an unmitigated disaster right now on the majority side.”
“I’m fearful of what this leads to,” Womack added.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus want Congress to pass a budget with lower spending levels than McCarthy agreed to in a deal with President Joe Biden earlier this year, but they lack leverage over the Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.
And Republicans can’t even agree among themselves on a spending plan that would fund the government for just one month, prompting increasingly nasty words from both sides. Last week, McCarthy dared the hard-liners to follow through on their threats to oust him, saying they should go ahead and “file the fucking motion” to force a no-confidence vote in his speakership.
On Monday, Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) called McCarthy “a weak speaker” in an unusually fiery statement, adding that “real leadership takes courage and willingness to fight for the country.” McCarthy fired back at Spartz for her previous announcement that she would not seek reelection: “If Victoria is concerned about fighting stronger, I wish she would run again and not quit.”
That prompted Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to defend Spartz by calling McCarthy’s comments “disgraceful” in a social media post. He added: “Kevin attacking a woman for putting her family above ambition & power is truly a new low.”
Gaetz has been one of McCarthy’s most vocal GOP critics in the House, threatening daily to force a vote on ousting McCarthy as speaker. But McCarthy brushed him off again on Monday.
“Oh, my God, someone tweeted about me?” McCarthy told reporters sarcastically on Monday. “Oh, my God, I’m gonna lose the speakership because somebody tweeted about me. That would’ve happened a long time ago.”
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) also got into it with both Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) over a proposed spending measure that seemed to fall apart as soon as it was negotiated over the weekend. McCarthy can afford to lose no more than four Republican votes on the legislation, which isn’t likely to pass in the Senate anyway.
McCarthy opened an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden last week in an apparent effort to please hard-liners like Gaetz, who had demanded such a move, but the effort has done little to mollify them.
Appeals to reason have also failed so far. McCarthy argues that passing a bill with even modest spending restrictions would strengthen his negotiating position with the Senate and the White House, which is likely to add funding for disaster relief and aid to Ukraine.
“I want to make sure we don’t shut down,” McCarthy said on Fox News over the weekend. “I don’t think that is a win for the American public and I definitely believe it’ll make our hand weaker if we shut down.”
On Tuesday morning, Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting with more optimism that they could strike a deal ― at least among themselves. But unity among Republicans in the House doesn’t necessarily make a government shutdown less likely.
“The Senate might choose to shut down the government and not pass our bills,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), one of the House hardliners, told reporters. “We can’t control what the Senate does.”
Meanwhile, Republican intransigence in the Senate is also upending progress on averting a government shutdown. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) last week objected to advancing a spending package that has nearly unanimous support in the upper chamber. The move threw a huge wrench in the plans of leaders on both sides of the aisle.
“It’s a reminder that in both chambers a small band of hard-right Republicans are dead set on grinding down the gears of government,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.
“I have a very difficult time figuring out what the objective is of those who are preventing us from moving forward. They are going to end up with a [spending bill] drafted by Chuck Schumer,” warned Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.