To avoid shutdown, McCarthy must clear Gaetz-sized hurdle

by Will Tubbs

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


The threat of a federal government shutdown grows more pressing by the hour as the Oct. 1 deadline Congress faces to pass a spending bill is only 48 hours away. 

As was the case a week ago, when FISM first examined the nature of the latest standoff, the prospect of Democrats and Republicans finding common ground is complicated by the fact that House Republicans have yet to smooth over their in-party differences. 

“I  never give up,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted Thursday night. “If we have to play into overtime to curb spending and secure the border, I’m prepared to do it.”

McCarthy’s sticktoitiveness might not be enough this time as it remains unclear if a temporary spending bill is even a possibility with Republican hardliners unwilling to entertain the idea.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus demand severe and long-lasting spending cuts as well as significant changes to American border security, and they are willing to allow a shutdown to get concessions from the Biden administration in those areas. 

“If there is any kind of a shutdown… it is because the President of the United States and the Senate Majority Leader, a Democrat, are choosing to shut down government rather than shut down an open border that is damaging the United States,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said during remarks on the House Floor. 

Democrats argue that McCarthy is allowing himself to be controlled by the farther-right elements of his party. 

“Every move Speaker McCarthy has taken since the bipartisan deal in June has been to shred any prospect of bipartisanship,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted. “By focusing on the views of the radical few instead of the many, Speaker McCarthy has made a shutdown much more likely.”

The message from the left, and from Republican moderates, has been clear: McCarthy should ditch the Freedom Caucus in favor of a coalition of leftists and centrists who can out-vote the conservatives. 

It’s a simple proposition that would work mathematically but is rife with political peril for McCarthy and the Republican Party. 

First, with the 2024 elections in the not-too-distant future, it will be hard for Republicans to market themselves as fiscally responsible and sold out for conservatism if they gift-wrap a major spending bill to the Biden administration. 

Second, and of primary importance for McCarthy, the Freedom Caucus might be smaller in number than the remainder of the House – there are 53 congresspeople in the caucus’ ranks – but they are not without power. 

McCarthy would not have become speaker without having made major concessions to the caucus, chief among them granting the power to any single member of the House to move to vacate the speakership. 

If McCarthy snubs the conservative hardliners, he will face removal and will not be able to count on 53 conservative votes, virtually all of which he’d need to keep his job. There wouldn’t be many concessions left for him to give nor would Freedom Caucus members be likely to want to do McCarthy a favor. 

“If @SpeakerMcCarthy works with Hakeem Jeffries and the Democrats to advance Joe Biden’s spending priorities, he cannot remain as Speaker of the House,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a key figure in the Freedom Caucus, tweeted Thursday. “Worse for the Speaker of the House, his alternative to smoothing.”

Gaetz, by his own design, sits in a powerful position. He was the key holdout who forced McCarthy into a many-day wait to become speaker, and Gaetz is the member of the House who has most readily reminded McCarthy of the precarious nature of his speakership. 

Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the Freedom Caucus could call for McCrthy’s job as early as next week. 

Thus, as the latest threat of a shutdown looms, it’s Gaetz who again will be the key hurdle for McCarthy to clear.

It’s a position McCarthy clearly is loathe to find himself in and there are reports that he is working intensely behind the scenes to undercut and disempower the Florida congressman. There have also been reports that McCarthy is seeking to organize a public smear campaign against Gaetz. 

As first reported by The Hill, McCarthy and Gaetz had a “testy exchange” during a closed-door meeting. 

“I asked McCarthy a direct question: Were you out there paying for people to try to create a false negative sentiment about me online?” The Hill quoted Gaetz as saying. “And his non sequitur retort was that he was giving out two and a half million dollars to other Republicans at breakfast. And I asked him how much of that money he’d gotten from FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried.”

According to The Hill, Gaetz was by no means warmly received by his fellow Republicans and appears to have been called a scumbag and told to “f— off” while confronting McCarthy.