To even get Democratic support for a plan to prevent a shutdown, much less save the speaker’s gavel, would require meeting extremely onerous criteria.
It’s no longer a far-fetched possibility that Democrats will save Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his current predicament.
A last-ditch proposal to fund the government has been discussed in private by groupings of moderate Democrats and several of McCarthy’s close GOP friends, according to more than a half-dozen people with knowledge of the conversations. The McCarthy supporters having such talks are doing so out of deep worry that their party, because to the intransigence of a few conservatives, won’t be able to prevent a shutdown on its own.
Members of Congress working on the negotiations, the vast majority of whom are part of the nonpartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, the conservative Republican Governance Group, or the moderate New Democrat Coalition, have made every effort to keep their efforts under wraps. Many Republicans are afraid to announce their backup plan until all of McCarthy’s other options have been exhausted.
That might happen as late as next week, before the shutdown date of September 30.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said, “It’s got to be bipartisan anyway, at some point,” in reference to finding a solution to the shutdown impasse. He then said of the conservative holdouts, “So why negotiate with these five or 10 people who move the goalposts?”
There are two main strategies that the bipartisan group is considering: using procedural means to force a vote on a compromise spending plan, or creating a package that is so well-liked that McCarthy will be able to push it through and withstand any right-wing opposition. Multiple persons briefed on the conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the legislation in question would be a bipartisan short-term patch containing some catastrophe money, Ukraine aid, and small-scale border regulations.
Two persons with knowledge of the plans who requested anonymity to discuss them said that the Problem Solvers started presenting its framework to members on Wednesday, with a formal vote on supporting it scheduled for that evening. According to three other officials familiar with the situation, another group, including top aides for both the New Democrat Coalition and the Republican Governance Group, met earlier on Wednesday to discuss their own stopgap funding solution.
These discussions have their roots in the budget impasse, but they’ve also had to confront the speaker’s second major issue: whether or not Democrats will vote against removing his gavel if he reaches out to the other side.
In private, a number of Democrats have stated that they are willing to assist the Californian with both issues; however, they will require concessions and the support of their leader, Hakeem Jeffries.
It should be made clear that any plan proposed by these regular members would meet significant opposition before being put to a vote. McCarthy’s opponents keep derailing his alternative choice, a GOP-only spending patch loaded with conservative border policies and funding cuts, but discussions of a bipartisan bailout have gathered pace.
Republicans have understood for a long time that even if the speaker revives that proposal, it still won’t pass the Senate. They would have to cooperate with Democrats eventually.
It’s unclear what the Democrats could/would ask for in exchange for their cooperation. They claim Jeffries, who has been silent about how he would handle a possible bipartisan deal, will make the final call. When asked about the potential of a GOP campaign to unseat the speaker, Jeffries brushes off such inquiries as “hypothetical.”
(Jeffries, when asked about the idea by POLITICO on Tuesday, said: “House Democrats are focused on making life better for average Americans — solving problems on their behalf. Republicans in the House are preoccupied with fighting among themselves.
On Wednesday at noon, Jeffries met in private with the roughly sixty members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, one of the organizations participating in the cross-aisle negotiations.
According to four sources briefed on the meeting, Jeffries gave the impression that he was open to hearing out the centrist bloc’s proposed solutions, which might include using procedural maneuvers to approve a stopgap bill. He emphasized the importance of including the bipartisan budget agreement made this spring in any short-term plan.
Apparently, Jeffries assured the group, “You’ll be part of the solution, and I’ve been supportive of your efforts in the past,” according to two persons who were in on the conversation.
McCarthy’s disregard for best practices
Bacon, a staunch McCarthy loyalist, was observed entering the office of the House parliamentarian the day before with the two leaders of the Problem Solvers, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa) and Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.).
They wouldn’t comment on the content of their House rules meeting. However, behind the scenes, a number of possibilities are being considered, including the highly improbable decision to pursue a discharge petition, a procedural maneuver that would bring a measure to the floor. (That option has a strict 30-day timeframe, making it unlikely that a shutdown can be avoided in the next 11 days.)
After the fact, Bacon remembered telling around 30 Republicans, including members of leadership, that he was “done” with GOP-only negotiations this week, claiming that the few holdouts in his party can’t be appeased.
McCarthy, in a brief interview, admitted that moderates from both parties had been working together to find a spending solution. But he flatly denied that any of his fellow Republicans would support a discharge petition, which requires the support of a majority of House members in order to move forward.
McCarthy has stated that there are three parts to his “rule of thumb” while in office: Support “whoever comes out of the conference for speaker” and refrain from signing a discharge petition; do not oppose a rule to discuss your party’s measure.
McCarthy continued by saying, “and so it has disrupted the entire conference” after several Republicans broke the first two items on his list. It’s amazing how many people believe they can multitask.
If you identify as a nihilist
Discharge petitions to fund the government are unlikely, but they are being discussed behind closed doors as vulnerable Republicans express growing impatience with the conservative roadblock.
The New York delegation has been “very candid” in internal GOP talks, according to Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who has been participating in the negotiations, saying things like “if we can’t work out a short-term funding deal, we’re going to sign a discharge petition.”
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), who represents one of the GOP’s most competitive districts, has reportedly been particularly vociferous in private meetings about threatening to sign a discharge petition, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
Lawler responded, “I would like to see the House Republican majority govern” by passing a short-term patch that can initiate additional talks with the Senate when asked whether he thinks there is a growing prospect of centrists from both parties teaming up as the standoff continues.
“But until that happens,” he said, “we need to keep the government funded and operational.” My sole suggestion to my fellow lawmakers is that we move quickly if we are serious about governing.
McCarthy’s resistance to a potential discharge petition stems from his inability to rally support among his own party members for a GOP-only plan that would combine a short-term funding fix with spending cuts and a Republican border bill. The bipartisan strategy could assist convince conservatives to quit blocking any agreement, according to one Republican senator participating in the talks.
Contrarily, this lawmaker elaborated, “If you are a nihilist and you want to burn the place down, you don’t care.”
However, Republicans taking part in the bipartisan talks are not without their own hazards. The very Democrats they are cooperating with want to defeat them next year, and some of their conservative colleagues are already warning of political retribution from base supporters.
Bishop, an opponent of McCarthy’s who helped kill a defense funding bill last week, said, “I don’t relish the prospect that liberal members of the Republican caucus would decide to govern as Democrats with Democrats.”
However, McCarthy himself faces the most danger from the ongoing cross-aisle discussions.
If he were to aid in moving forward a bipartisan deal, he would cross a boundary beyond which his most vocal opponents have warned may lead to a vote to remove his gavel from the table. If McCarthy presents a “clean” financing plan to the floor, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has said he will compel a vote.
Bacon urged the speaker to maintain resolve, saying, “We should disregard it. There’s no need to bow down to them.