September 27, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
He has to hurt his own to get his own to stand up to their own
The Republican insurgents won’t be appeased by McCarthy or anyone.
Last night, a huge majority of United States senators pressed ahead with legislation that would keep the government running for another six weeks after current funding levels expire Saturday. It’s a stop-gap effort that includes additional funding for Ukraine’s war effort. The measure requires one more procedural step before going to the House, but with an overwhelming vote of 77-19, one thing seems pretty clear. If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy brings it to the floor, it will most likely pass.
So the question is whether McCarthy will bring it to the floor. He’s been tap-dancing since before the start of his speakership, when it became necessary to give most of his power away in installments in order to save a little for himself. He gave a virtual veto to a group of insurgent Republicans who can’t be trusted because they have no interest in governance. He’s been tap-dancing even since, and the man is tiring.
Their demands themselves are beside the point. The point is making them – again and again. If their demands are somehow met, as they were two weeks ago when Kevin McCarthy decided to open an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden, for reasons that have yet to be fully explained, the insurgents aren’t grateful. They just move on to the next thing that the House speaker hasn’t done.
He faces a choice that’s as simple as it seems impossible. He can bring the Senate bill to a vote in the House and see it pass. While he’d be praised for his pragmatism, his job would be up in jeopardy. A condition of his speakership was a rule allowing a “a motion to vacate the chair” that can be triggered by just one member, Republican or Democrat.
Or he can protect his job by preventing the bill from seeing the light of day. That might appease the GOP insurgents, but irritate much of his conference. Many of them are invested in their reputations for being reasonable Republicans. They don’t want to go back home to explain why holding the government hostage is a reasonable thing to do.
But even if he does appease the insurgents, by preventing the Senate bill from seeing the light of day, McCarthy can’t really appease them – they won’t want to be appeased. That’s not why they do any of this.
To be sure, they say they want concessions. Usually, that means less money for government programs that they don’t like, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which feeds the most vulnerable among us. But even if, say, WIC vanished, the insurgents would not be satisfied, because being satisfied requires being faithful to the terms they’re demanding.
They’re not faithful, because the demands themselves are beside the point. The point is making them – again and again. If their demands are somehow met, as they were two weeks ago when Kevin McCarthy decided to open an impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden, for reasons that have yet to be fully explained, the insurgents aren’t grateful. They just move on to the next thing that the speaker hasn’t done for them.
They can’t be trusted to stand by their own terms. McCarthy, meanwhile, can’t be trusted to bargain in good faith, because the insurgents he’s trying to appease with all this bargaining won’t be appeased. To them, governance is a meaningless concept. It’s no wonder that intraparty negotiations have fallen to pieces. McCarthy should be thankful for the Senate offering its stop-gap measure.
Governance is obviously not a meaningless concept, and the more chaos that’s wrought by these GOP insurgents, the more pressure there will likely be on McCarthy to do something about it. All he needs to pass the Senate bill is six Republicans joining all the Democrats, who are certainly going to support it. That would be enough to reach 218 votes required for passage. That’s it – just half a dozen Republicans.
But if half a dozen Republicans broke from the party to join the Democrats, they’d be toast in the next primary, and they know it. So it would be better to have most of the rest of the conference buy into the Senate’s stopgap bill. That might require them to feel the pain that comes from permitting a shutdown, however, and that would require McCarthy to prevent the bill from seeing the light of day, for a little while. He has to hurt his own to get his own to stand up to their own.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.