Kevin McCarthy is in an unenviable position.
The House Speaker is faced with the prospect of a government shutdown, causing the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal workers while disrupting government services relied upon by millions of Americans.
If Congress does not agree to a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year by September 30, the federal government shuts down.
Republicans control the House by 221-212, with two seats vacant. Assuming a vote along party lines, a motion will fall if just five Republicans vote against it.
A small proportion, backed by former President Donald Trump, are threatening to do just that.
McCarthy is left with two options. Side with the Democrats, and lose the support of a party which took 15 rounds to vote him in as speaker in January, or side with the MAGA Republicans and watch his motion grind to a halt in the Democrat-led Senate.
The Case For The Republicans
Naturally, McCarthy would prefer to appease those within his own party before looking to a party, at least in modern times, who are viewed as the enemy.
MAGA Republicans are echoing many of former president Trump’s comments on controversial issues. (For what it’s worth, Trump’s main reason for a shutdown is to disrupt the federal prosecutions against him, despite the Department of Justice being able to run without immediate funding).
The right-flank of the party is insistent on delivering spending cuts and conservative priorities. This same group continually voted against McCarthy in his lengthy battle to hold the gavel at the start of the year.
Since then, they’ve threatened to derail White House negotiations to avoid a catastrophic default on the United States, disrupting to an extent where McCarthy was forced to look to the Democrats for support. The fact that more Democrats voted for the eventual successful package than Republicans, despite the latter holding the majority, did not bode well for the House Speaker.
In the latest dispute, the GOP’s right demands significant spending cuts for funding for Ukraine. So far, Congress has approved approximately $113 billion to Kyiv, including more than $43 billion in military commitments. As part of its budget, the White House is requesting a further $24 billion.
Georgia Rep. and Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene has described this funding as “blood money.” Representatives from a majority of both parties have said they intend to support the request, despite a lack of support among Republican voters.
In addition, MAGA Republicans have accused President Joe Biden of weaponizing federal agencies. Once again spurred on by Trump, who believes he’s the victim of a politically motivated criminal conspiracy, the hard right refuses to budge. The Republican frontrunner, cheering from the sidelines of Truth Social, urged GOP lawmakers: “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!”
On the assumption that McCarthy caves into the demands of MAGA Republicans, and the concessions aren’t so right-wing that even moderates vote against it, then it will go to the Senate. If such concessions are made, the Democrats will no doubt strike it down, forcing a government shutdown.
Alas, McCarthy must look to the left as well as the right in order to save face.
The Case For The Democrats
A small slither of Democrats will be all McCarthy needs to beat the right-flank of the party. Given that a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that more Americans (40%) found Biden to be responsible for the possible shutdown than the GOP (33%), a few Democrats may be tempted into accepting modest concessions.
The level of Democratic support in the House will be key for the funding bill to be passed through the Senate. Both sides of the chamber in the Upper House have expressed frustration for the impasse, but the Democrats ultimately have control. If the bill caters to their side more than it does Trump’s, they may opt to pass it and avoid the reputational damage for their own disputes.
However, concessions to the opposite party will undoubtedly cause fury from those spurred on by the party’s most popular presidential candidate with his own social media site. After all, it was the Trump loyalists in the House who repeatedly blocked McCarthy’s election to Speaker.
As part of the concessions given to them, House rules now state only one Representative needs to trigger a motion to vacate, seen as the first step to remove him as speaker. Rep. Matt Gaetz has repeatedly threatened to trigger such a motion against McCarthy, in what is, in effect, a vote of no confidence.
Most Republicans would stand by McCarthy, but not all. He’d need a few Democrats to side with him, too, and given that he’s launched an impeachment inquiry against President Biden within the past month, it’s unlikely they’ll be overly sympathetic to his plight.
So Is McCarthy Doomed?
It’s hard to see any positive outcome for Kevin McCarthy here. The House Speaker is being targeted from both sides, and any venture too deeply to the left or the right will cause the other to vote against him. When two sides are so polarized, finding a middle ground can be extremely challenging.
He’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. He’s already being threatened with a motion to oust him if he sides with the Democrats – there’s no reason why the opposing party can do the same if he is deemed responsible for the shutdown.
Perhaps a saving grace is that, at least currently, the two opposing sides are mostly pointing fingers at each other, rather than McCarthy himself. The Democrats cite Republican infighting for the disruption, while the MAGA Republicans echo Trump’s rhetoric about President Biden.
That said, a House Speaker who lets a shutdown happen at his behest is never well-received. Even if, by some miracle, McCarthy survives the current debacle, you feel it’s only a matter of time before the dreaded motion to vacate enters the House.
Kevin McCarthy, whichever way you look at it, is officially doomed.
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.