June 18, 2024

Kevin McCarthy really, really wants to fund the government. But the Speaker of the House has a thin majority, a lot of promises to keep, and a caucus filled with conservatives who all want something different but stand united in their belief that he is not conservative enough for them.

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All of this, as can be expected, poses a problem for McCarthy.

I am reminded of the children’s nursery rhyme “A Farmer in the Dell.” One of the verses repeats the line “The cheese stands alone,” which has an extremely complex interpretation: The cheese stands alone. In our case, the (Big) Cheese is McCarthy, who does not seem to have much support from any side right now.

The moderates still believe he gave the conservatives too much power. Some conservatives, like Chip Roy, are trying to push him (and the House as a whole) to the right. Other conservatives, like Matt Gaetz, just want to watch his tenure go up in flames. Even Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of his closest allies on the right, seems to have abandoned him.

This brings us to last night.

Both the House and the Senate have made movement on government spending. On the Senate side, with a majority of Republicans joining the Democrats, a continuing resolution (CR) was passed that would fund the government until the middle of November. It includes both aid for Ukraine and disaster relief.

On the House side, McCarthy was able to get passage on the rules for four of the 12 appropriations bills that would need to be passed in order to fund the government fully. So far, that’s all they’ve been able to do.

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Fox’s Chad Pergram is right in that it’s a victory for McCarthy, but there is little chance he will get the government funded with just one-third of the appropriations bills and the Democrats in control of the Senate (with a lot of Republican support). Likewise, it seems like there is very little chance McCarthy can get away with bringing the Senate’s CR to the floor, where it would likely pass with every Democrat on board and a handful of moderates joining them.

His plan, for right now, appears to be to seek a stopgap measure like the Senate’s CR, but with a twist – he wants to amend it by adding the House’s border security bill. In doing so, he believes he can fund the government temporarily with support from key conservatives. It is unclear if he can get Democratic support for this plan, but if he can get it passed, the idea is that the Democrats (who are eager to fund the government at all costs) will oblige.

The problem? There’s no guarantee on that. Democrats still consider a shutdown a liability to Republicans rather than themselves, and they may take the risk. But, not too long ago, McCarthy put forward a plan and challenged the White House to come to the table on it. The White House blinked, and McCarthy claimed a temporary victory.

He may have the magic on this one, too. But in the process, he is looking more and more isolated and, unlike his predecessors, increasingly appears to be the weakest Speaker in the history of the House.

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There is an argument to be made that a CR now gives conservatives in the House more time to get the necessary appropriations bills across the line, and it’s not a bad argument. We’re seeing movement on it, but the Democrats’ insisting that Ukraine aid be part of the CR deal will definitely be a mood kill for conservatives. 

But it all comes down, once again, to whether McCarthy can get something across the finish line and if he can challenge Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer from a position of strength.

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