Will Democrats Save Kevin McCarthy?

Will Democrats Save Kevin McCarthy?

Sipa USA
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Monday, October 2, 2023

Happy Monday and welcome to fiscal year 2024, which started yesterday! With a government shutdown averted, at least for now, Congress has 46 days until its new November 17 deadline to figure out federal spending — time that will be used to fight over Kevin McCarthy’s speakership and future aid for Ukraine. Here’s an update.

Will Democrats Save Kevin McCarthy?

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz indicated again on Monday that he will move this week to force a vote on ousting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Gaetz, who has long been highly critical of the speaker and reportedly has personal animosity toward him, told CNN on Sunday that he will bring a “motion to vacate” challenging McCarthy’s job after the speaker brought up a bill to avert a government shutdown that passed with bipartisan support.

In a speech on the House floor Monday, Gaetz asked what was in a secret side deal that McCarthy allegedly cut with Democrats and President Joe Biden over Ukraine aid funding (see more on that below).

“It is becoming increasingly clear who the speaker of the House already works for and it’s not the Republican conference,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz suggested that he would soon move against McCarthy and asked that the speaker provide details on any side agreement. “I’ll be listening. Stay tuned,” he said.

Gaetz may have the support of a small group of 20 or so hard-right Republicans who have challenged McCarthy since January. But some of those Republicans have already come out against a motion to vacate right now, and Gaetz has acknowledged that his push could well fail. “No matter how loud or disruptive they may be, the anti-McCarthy faction is only a small minority in a Republican conference that is mostly supportive or amenable to him remaining speaker,” Farnoush Amiri of the Associated Press notes.

Several Democrats are expected to vote to save McCarthy, though it’s not clear yet how House Democrats led by Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York will approach the vote. Jeffries reportedly has yet to reach a final decision about how to proceed.

“McCarthy has made it clear that he doesn’t keep his promises,” Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, chair of the Armed Services Committee, told CNN Monday morning. “He will make a promise to you and he will break it the second it’s in his best interest to do that, so we have to factor that in as we’re figuring out how to vote on this.”

Smith laid out the factors Democrats have to weigh in deciding whether to save McCarthy: “Literally the only thing the guy’s got going for him is the situation could possibly be even worse without him, and that’s what we need to think about.”

He added that he would want to see McCarthy deliver a vote on supplemental funding for Ukraine and passage of annual appropriations bills.

“Democrats have been strategizing internally about what concessions they might be able to extract from Mr. McCarthy in exchange for saving him from Mr. Gaetz and his allies,” The New York Times’ Carl Hulse and Luke Broadwater report. Democrats are eager to see Mr. McCarthy commit to more funding for Ukraine, award more federal projects in Democrats’ districts and honor the deal on spending levels he reached earlier this year with Mr. Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions. All would draw a backlash from Republicans.”

Any Democratic rescue of McCarthy would likely be temporary, as The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake writes. Experts note that the biggest question is whether Gaetz can build enough support to oust McCarthy because it may well be impossible for the speaker to work with Democrats and survive. “It’s simply not tenable for McCarthy to be seen as bargaining with Democrats to secure his job,” Republican strategist Liam Donovan tells the Post. “Gaetz knows this, which is precisely why he engineered this situation.”

Will Congress Approve More Aid to Ukraine?

The White House has requested $24 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, on top of the more than $100 billion in economic and security assistance already provided to the war-torn country, and lawmakers in both parties had hoped to include some portion of those funds in the stopgap funding bill that Congress passed late Saturday. But growing resistance among Republican hardliners to sending more money to Ukraine prompted negotiators to drop the roughly $6 billion aid package from the last-minute agreement.

The $6 billion would have provided $1.5 billion for the Department of Defense to replenish its own stock of weapons and equipment already sent to Ukraine, and another $1.5 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the Pentagon to order new items from defense contractors.

In a letter to Congressional leaders, Defense Department Comptroller Michael McCord said the Pentagon has about $1.6 billion left in the replenishment fund, but the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative has been exhausted. In addition, the Pentagon can continue to transfer about $5.5 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine due to accounting errors made in previous efforts.

McCord warned lawmakers that without additional funding, the U.S. will have to limit shipments of air defense weapons, ammunition, drones and breaching equipment that are “critical and urgent now as Russia prepares to conduct a winter offensive.”

Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Associated Press that Ukraine could start feeling the pinch from a lack of new funding in just a few weeks. “If there’s no new money, they’re going to start feeling it by Thanksgiving,” Cancian said.

In Congress, some Ukraine supporters portrayed the failure to provide more aid as a victory for Russia. “Putin is celebrating,” Rep. Mike Quigley, the sole Democrat who voted against the stopgap funding bill because it lacked Ukraine aid, told CNN. “I don’t see how the dynamics change in 45 days.”

A deal made? On Sunday, President Joe Biden called on lawmakers to act quickly to provide more aid. “We cannot under any circumstances allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said. “The vast majority of both parties — Democrats and Republicans, Senate and House — support helping Ukraine and the brutal aggression that is being thrust upon them by Russia. Stop playing games, get this done.”

Asked if he trusted Speaker Kevin McCarthy to include the Ukraine aid when the “next deal comes around,” Biden told reporters, “We just made one about Ukraine. So, we’ll find out.”

As noted above, the remark is being seen by some as evidence of a side agreement between Biden and McCarthy to include aid for Ukraine when lawmakers attempt to settle a full-year funding package. But White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre declined to clarify the remarks on Monday.

Democratic leaders in the House said Monday they expect to vote on a Ukraine aid package soon, though they did not refer to any agreement to do so. “When the House returns, we expect Speaker McCarthy to advance a bill to the House Floor for an up-or-down vote that supports Ukraine, consistent with his commitment to making sure that Vladimir Putin, Russia and authoritarianism are defeated,” they said in a statement. “We must stand with the Ukrainian people until victory is won.”

McCarthy denied that there is an agreement. “I don’t think the president implied that at all,” he said. “I believe Ukraine is very important. I have always supported arming Ukraine – that’s not sending money to Ukraine, that’s arming Ukraine [with] the weaponry to defend.” McCarthy then reiterated his argument that border security is at least as important as aid to a foreign country. “I think it’s very important with the number of Americans who are dying that we get the border done,” he said.

Five Kinda Sorta Winners From the Shutdown Fight

Nobody really won this unnecessary showdown, but here’s who came closest.

1. The nation. Congress narrowly avoided a shutdown that would have inflicted pain on millions of Americans. That’s a win, even if we are closer to the brink of a shutdown than we needed to be.

2. Democrats. Democrats got most of what they wanted from the stopgap spending bill, both in terms of policy and politics. Republicans failed to pass their own conservative stopgap legislation, including spending cuts and strict border provisions, and while the House GOP displayed dysfunction and disarray, Democrats were able to show that they were open to bipartisanship and interested in effective governance. Plus, they now have some leverage in the House as Speaker Kevin McCarthy tries to fend off a conservative challenge.

3. Kevin McCarthy. Well, sort of. The embattled House speaker managed to surprise everybody again, avoided a shutdown for which he’d shoulder the blame and got to portray himself as “the adult in the room” — but his reward for defusing the crisis he created is a likely push to oust him. Then again, that motion could well fail — and it’s not clear that anyone else would be capable of wrangling a divided House GOP conference. All in all, McCarthy may have emerged from this mess in somewhat better shape than many expected.

4. The political media. News outlets that thrive on conflict got a suspenseful shutdown fight with an unexpected last-minute plot twist — and now they can salivate over the interpersonal clash between McCarthy and Rep. Matt Gaetz. And, sadly, they may have another shutdown showdown to cover in just 46 days.

5. Vladimir Putin. The additional Ukraine funding sought by the Biden administration was the major component of the stopgap spending bill to fall by the wayside, at least temporarily. “This week’s shutdown drama has given momentum to the forces in Washington that want to end U.S. support for Ukraine,” writes Ian Swanson at The Hill, who notes that growing numbers of House Republicans opposed additional aid and that a Senate package that included billions in funding had to be set aside in favor of the House bill that excluded that money.

Send your feedback to yrosenberg@thefiscaltimes.com.

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