‘He’s Barely Speaker’: Can Kevin McCarthy Keep His Caucus Happy — And Keep His Speakership?

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  • Time is running out for Congress to pass spending legislation to fund the government, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing opposition from his caucus, as well as some floating calls for his ousting.
  • House conservatives are demanding policy concessions be included during the appropriations process, some are floating McCarthy’s removal and political experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation they view the speaker as in a “weak” position, despite launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
  • “I don’t think that opening an inquiry is going to help, I don’t think keeping the government open is going to help to quell these calls for a motion to vacate,” Josh Huder, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, told the DCNF.

With a possible government shutdown just weeks away, House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy is once again fielding challenges among his caucus to pass spending bills as well as looming calls for his ousting.

Congress has until Sept. 30 to either pass 12 appropriations bills or a continuing resolution to fund the government, but House conservatives’ demands have put McCarthy in a “weak” position, political experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation. Some McCarthy detractors have threatened the speaker with a motion to vacate if he doesn’t follow through on policy promises, and the experts don’t see any potential spending concessions, or even the recent launch of an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, as enough to stave off those calls.

“He’s in a sort of an impossible position. And that’s why we’re at where we’re at. We can’t pass spending bills. We can’t get the [continuing resolution] across the table because the political realities of the Republican Party make it so that he doesn’t really have the authority to put anything on the floor, much less strike a deal with anyone,” Josh Huder, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, told the DCNF. “He made a bunch of promises that he just could not deliver the votes for, and so now he’s kind of what his back against the wall.”

McCarthy secured the gavel in January on the 15th vote after agreeing to a rules package to add House Freedom Caucus (HFC) members to the Rules Committee, cap spending at Fiscal Year 2022 levels and establish a single-member motion to vacate the speaker, allowing just one unsatisfied representative to call a vote on his removal. During debt ceiling negotiations, McCarthy led the House in passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which enabled the government to acquire unlimited debt through Jan. 1, 2025, freeze non-defense discretionary spending at Fiscal Year 2022 levels, claw back unspent COVID-19 stimulus funds and other provisions.

The HFC released a list of demands on Aug. 12 that must be included in the spending bills to gain the members’ support, including the Secure the Border Act, addressing the “weaponization” of the DOJ and terminating the Pentagon’s “woke policies.” The Caucus won’t support a continuing resolution or appropriations that provide “any blank check for Ukraine.”

“You had [McCarthy’s] own conference almost come to blows on the floor of the House over the last few holdouts,” Jeremy Mayer, associate professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told the DCNF. “McCarthy isn’t just weak because his margin is narrow … and he’s not just weak because his party is divided. But the combination of how divided his caucus is, and how narrow the margin is, as well as the fact that there is a Freedom Caucus that doesn’t care about things that have kept other fringe movements among the Democrats, Republicans in line. Like they don’t care about a shutdown.”

Huder and Mayer insisted McCarthy does not have the votes to deliver on the provisions that the HFC is demanding, and both fear a government shutdown is likely.

Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale, one of the 20 McCarthy holdouts from his speakership bid, slammed the speaker for his handling of the spending fight and hinted at the vulnerability of his leadership position in a statement to the DCNF.

“I am extremely disappointed in the Speaker’s lack of leadership. The appropriations bills should ALL have been completed by the end of June, allowing ample time for analysis and input from Congress and the general public,” Rosendale told the DCNF in a statement. “Whether it is planned or negligence, Speaker McCarthy has put the House on a path towards passing a CR and or an omnibus, which will no doubt cost the taxpayers $7 trillion a year, adding $2 trillion a year to the national debt.

“This is unacceptable to Montanans, and if McCarthy chooses to solicit support from Democrats to pass any such provisions, as he did with the debt ceiling package, which had more Democrat support than Republican, his allegiance will be clear, and his position will surely be in jeopardy,” Rosendale added.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy criticized McCarthy and Republican leadership for being “afraid” of a government shutdown during an interview with Glenn Beck Thursday, which his team pointed the DCNF toward upon request for comment.

“We have to use the power of the purse to force change. So we are trying to force Kevin and the leadership of the Republican Conference to understand that now is the time to force Biden to come to the table,” said Roy.

After several House Republicans, like Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, pushed McCarthy to launch an impeachment inquiry into Biden, the speaker officially announced the move Tuesday.

“This was an attempt to throw a bone to the pack of wolves that were after McCarthy and after a shutdown, and the problem is that bone they already expected. They believe it’s theirs,” Mayer of the impeachment inquiry. “It didn’t seem to work, it just made them hungrier for more.”

Gaetz has been vocal about ousting McCarthy, and the speaker’s move to launch an impeachment inquiry has not quelled his sentiment.

“Impeachment is not some get-out-of-jail-free card for Kevin McCarthy on the motion to vacate,” Gaetz wrote in a tweet a spokesperson pointed the DCNF toward upon request for comment. “This is about the Biden administration’s policy choices that the American people abhor. A vote for a continuing resolution is a vote for continuing election interference from Jack Smith, the Green New Deal, and inflationary spending.”

Huder believes it’s not a question of if there will be a motion to vacate, but a matter of when, he told the DCNF. (RELATED: ‘File The F*cking Motion’: McCarthy Challenges GOP Opponents To Follow Through With Threat To Remove Him)

“I almost don’t think it matters if there’s a formal move to vacate him because he’s so weak right now, he’s barely speaker. It is not a leadership position,” said Mayer.

McCarthy reportedly challenged those threatening a call for his removal, and told his colleagues in a closed door meeting on Thursday to “file the fucking motion.”

“I don’t think that opening an inquiry is going to help, I don’t think keeping the government open is going to help to quell these calls for a motion to vacate,” said Huder. “At the end of the day, though, the motion to vacate is not going to remove him from the speakership, but it would damage his political capital and political sway within the chamber.”

Some prominent Republicans have since voiced support of McCarthy amid the spending fight, impeachment inquiry and calls for his ousting.

“I support Speaker McCarthy. He’s the right man for the job,” House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio told the DCNF in a statement.

“There are over 200 of us who are prepared to vote for McCarthy not just fifteen times, but fifty. McCarthy has nothing to worry about,” Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, an ally of the speaker, told the DCNF in a statement.

Colorado Rep. Ken Buck isn’t calling for the speaker’s removal, and is focused on funding the government.

“Congressman Buck’s priority is to pass a continuing resolution and avoid a government shutdown. He does want to keep spending levels to the previously-agreed to 2022 levels,” Victoria Marshall, spokesperson for Buck, told the DCNF.

The House Freedom Caucus didn’t immediately respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.

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