Shutdown Showdown Ends, Speaker Showdown Begins
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy struck a deal to fund the government, but at what cost?
“People think Gaetz is dumb, but he’s f*cking smart—he’s really smart,” one GOP aide told POLITICO late last week as the government hurtled towards a shutdown and the Florida Congressman squared off directly against House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Neither Gaetz nor McCarthy wanted a government shutdown, the prospect of which has since been avoided. Prima facie, it was McCarthy, not Gaetz, who ultimately got his way. While McCarthy is claiming victory in this battle, it may have cost him the war against his conservative flank.
On Saturday, the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at 2023 levels through November 17. In the House, 209 Democrats joined 126 Republicans to pass the continuing resolution. The final tally was 335 in favor, 91 against. In the Senate, the bill passed 88–9, and with three hours before the shutdown would have begun, President Joe Biden signed the bill into law.
McCarthy was at wits end with Gaetz and the Florida Congressman’s allies. In the weeks leading up to the shutdown, Gaetz was effective at not only popularizing his position with the American people through deft use of the media but also whipping against McCarthy’s efforts to fund the government via other continuing resolutions.
Gaetz, who never shies away from a fight, especially when that fight is televised, was at his best when Maria Bartiromo interviewed him on September 24.
“Tell me why you are threatening Speaker McCarthy and trying to shut down this government at a time that the Republicans have finally gotten some upper-hands here in terms of wins,” such as being “able to investigate President Biden on what looks like bribery,” Bartiromo demanded.
“We don't put our pencils down in the investigation of President Biden during a shutdown, so the premise is false,” Gaetz said, correcting the Fox News host. He continued,
Second, if Kevin McCarthy was actually serious about pursuing the Biden’s, he would have sent Hunter Biden a subpoena by now. That’s how you know this is sort of failure theater that you’re observing...We seem to be fundamentally unserious in our oversight. But what is serious is the fact that we are spending more than $7 trillion a year, bringing in around $5 trillion a year. I want to fund the government. I’m not pro shut down. But the way to fund the government is not the same way we've been doing it since the mid ’90s, where it's one up or down vote on the entire government all at once. We should have separate, single subject spending bills. Kevin McCarthy promised that in January; he is in breach of that promise. So I’m not here to hold the government hostage, I’m here to hold Kevin McCarthy to his word.
“Take for example, the border,” Gaetz would later say. “The Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill was passed out of the Appropriations Committee in June. And yet Kevin McCarthy hasn't put it on the floor in more than 100 days.”
Bartiromo shot back that McCarthy was moving on four more appropriations bills in the week leading up to the shutdown. “So to push now to blow up all of the wins that you all have had now,” Bartiromo said before Gaetz interrupted: “Which wins? Please enumerate them.” In response, Bartiromo cited McCarthy setting up a committee on the weaponization of the federal government, the China select committee, and the Biden impeachment inquiry.
“None of those things are deliverables,” Gaetz replied. “Setting up a committee is an end unto itself only in Washington, D.C.”
“It’s not enough to expose facts that get people angry and animated. You then have to follow those facts to a conclusion and to accountability,” Gaetz later added. “You see, that’s what Republicans are bad at. We're great at having the hearings and putting on the performances. But if you’re still going to underwrite Biden’s debt, which is what Kevin McCarthy did, joining with Democrats on the debt limit deal, and if you're going to join up with Democrats to still fund this government, Merrick Garland will sit there and he’ll answer my tough questions and he’ll smirk at me or he’ll obfuscate. And then guess what? He goes back to the Justice Department and the coffers are full with money from the American taxpayer that gets turned against the brave patriots in this country.”
Gaetz’s interview with Bartiromo was prompted by his efforts to prevent the House from passing a continuing resolution that would have funded the government through October 31 but with around 8 percent cuts in nondefense spending excluding funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and disaster relief. In addition to the modest cuts, the continuing resolution included provisions passed by the House in H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act, such as resuming the construction of the border wall. Provisions to extend and strengthen E-verify were omitted, however.
In this continuing resolution, McCarthy sought to bring together the fractious GOP caucus by having conservative Reps. Chip Roy, Scott Perry, and Byron Donalds negotiate the terms with Reps. Dusty Johnson, Stephanie Bice, and Kelly Armstrong of the Main Street Caucus. McCarthy likely knew this version of the continuing resolution would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate, just as the Senate’s version of the continuing resolution that continued government spending levels from the previous omnibus and large amounts of funding for Ukraine was dead on arrival in the House. The idea was, however, that if the government did enter into a shutdown, the Republican message would be unified around the need for border security, an issue which a large number of GOP members could agree is worth shutting the government down for.
The continuing resolution that would have funded the government through the end of October was admittedly better than the continuing resolution that Biden signed into law Saturday night. Nevertheless, throughout the shutdown negotiations, McCarthy advocated for a continuing resolution to fund the government over pushing committee chairs and floor votes on single subject spending bills. Gaetz, it appears, thought that if he could push McCarthy to the brink, the Speaker would show his true colors and side with Democrats on a continuing resolution. Gaetz managed to whip twenty other members of the House GOP to reject the continuing resolution that would have funded the government through October 31 when it came to a vote on September 29. The final tally was 198 in favor, 232 against.
After the October 31 continuing resolution failed, McCarthy did what Gaetz likely hoped he would do. Just prior to midnight Friday, McCarthy filed a new continuing resolution that he believed would be amenable to a bipartisan coalition in both the House and Senate. The next day, McCarthy notified his conference on what he’d done. The major chips exchanged not only between Democrats and Republicans but the House and the Senate was disaster relief funding and aid to Ukraine. Democrats in both chambers and most Republicans in the Senate wanted to secure more aid to Ukraine in any continuing resolution agreement, but McCarthy exchanged that aid to shore up enough GOP support in the House for maintaining disaster relief funding.
“If somebody wants to remove [me] because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy said Saturday morning, according to POLITICO. “If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that.”
The lead up to the vote on the continuing resolution to fund the government through November 17 was full of political theater. Democrats lamented McCarthy dropping the 71 page continuing resolution on the House in the dead of night, and pulled out all the procedural stops to buy time ostensibly to read the bill. When that failed, Rep. Jamaal Bowman pulled the fire alarm, which he claims he’s “embarrassed” by because he thought it would open the door. The real reason for House Democrats’ efforts to delay the bill, however, was likely an attempt to see if the Senate could reach cloture on their own version of a continuing resolution that would have been even more favorable to Democrats and include millions more for Ukraine. Ultimately, the controlled-opposition leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell, failed to generate enough Republican support to get the Schumer-McConnell continuing resolution across the line. In the end, 209 Democrats and 126 Republicans voted in favor of McCarthy’s continuing resolution.
“The one thing I’ve learned is: get things done, bring others along,” Speaker McCarthy said after the passage of the continuing resolution, boasting his record of what the House has been able to do under his leadership. “We had the majority of the Republicans voting for it,” McCarthy said in defense of the continuing resolution. “I think, at the end of the day, we kept the government open, kept paying our troops, to finish the job we have to get done,” McCarthy added, citing apparent Democrat obstruction.
McCarthy was not the only one celebrating, however. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "after trying to take our government hostage, MAGA Republicans won nothing," Schumer continued. "So one more time: It is good Speaker McCarthy finally—finally—heeded our message that bipartisanship was and is the only way. He could have made this decision weeks ago."
Get daily emails in your inbox
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Democrats were victorious. “Time and time and time again, House Democrats have had to come to the rescue and push back against the extremists,” Jeffries told members of the media. “When we read the four corners of the agreement it was clear to us that this spending bill was a complete and total victory for the American people and a total defeat for the extreme MAGA Republicans.” The Biden White House called the continuing resolution a “big victory.”
For McCarthy, simple math is the fly in the ointment. The golden rule of democratic politics: if a bill becomes law with more support from a particular party, chances are, it goes down as a win for that party. It’s the second time this political maxim has been on display for all to see during McCarthy’s time as speaker, first with the debt ceiling fight in June and now the shutdown negotiations.
As for Gaetz, the Florida Congressman believes he’s forced McCarthy to show his true colors. The conservative firebrand told ABC News that “Kevin McCarthy’s gonna get his wish,” and will be filing a motion to vacate later this week.