Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy sees himself as the adult in the room – he used that very phrase.
And he did a very grownup thing by helping his party – and the country – avoid a government shutdown at the last minute.
Now he needs the help of other Republican adults, a majority of his caucus, to hold onto his gavel, along with Democratic votes that he may or may not get.
The California congressman, who is regularly underestimated by the press, didn’t win a major victory over the weekend. It was a kick-the-can maneuver that buys six weeks of stopgap funding to resolve the same bitterly contested issues, but it beats millions of federal workers and military personnel not getting their paychecks.
The leader of the anti-Kevin forces, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, pounced last night, making a motion this week to oust McCarthy from the speaker’s chair. The ostensible reason is that he mainly relied on Democrats to pass the stopgap bill.
Of course, Gaetz probably would have found a reason regardless, and McCarthy was out of options since he couldn’t get the hardliners to agree to any other package.
McCarthy had defiantly said “Bring it!”, and now the battle is on.
The two men have been trading insults. Gaetz called his adversary a liar while McCarthy said Gaetz is “more interested in securing TV interviews” than securing the border.
If this sounds like a crazy way to run a government, you’re right. This was all supposed to have been settled last spring, when the speaker and President Biden reached a down-to-the-wire agreement to avoid a debt-ceiling default.
That, by the way, is another senseless ritual in which the country flirts with not paying debts for past spending, but it gives the out-of-power party some leverage.
A better system would be this: Congress should pass budgets on time, but this rarely happens anymore.
Instead, we’re always dangling on the edge of a fiscal cliff, even though America is the world’s richest country. That’s why Biden called the almost-federal-shutdown a “self-inflicted crisis.”
There was some substance to the exit strategy. Senate Democrats agreed to give up billions in Ukraine military aid (for now) and House Republicans agreed to drop their demand for increased border funding, but both of those wars are far from over.
Gaetz yesterday accused the speaker of making a “secret deal” with Democrats on Ukraine aid – which is becoming increasingly unpopular within the GOP – but it didn’t show up in the budget documents.
Gaetz said earlier in the day that he will try again and again to topple McCarthy, who is vulnerable because during January’s election he conceded that any member could make a motion to remove him.
“It took Speaker McCarthy 15 votes to become the speaker,” Gaetz said. “Until I get to 14 or 15, I don’t think I’m being any more dilatory.”
But many Democrats don’t trust McCarthy and are in no mood to bail him out. With only a five-vote margin in the House, he would need one Democrat vote to offset every Republican defector beyond that.
One possibility is that many Democrats may vote “present,” or not at all, raising the threshold for the Republican rebels to oust him.
Would a McCarthy replacement have an easier time managing the caucus? An easier time that John Boehner or Paul Ryan did? The job is all but impossible, perhaps reflecting the GOP divide between Trump loyalists and never-Trumpers.
McCarthy may be the adult in the room, but the nonstop warfare must be aging him by the day.