Sep 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Spending "clown show" ignites House GOP discord

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

GOP hardliners' refusal to support spending bills ignited public spats among House Republicans on Monday, exasperating House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other Republicans desperate to unify around a solution.

Why it matters: As the simmering divisions within the House GOP erupt, funding for the U.S. government is inching closer to running dry — and a shutdown on Sept. 30 is looming.

Driving the news: The seemingly endless cycle of right-wing opposition — this time toward a short-term measure to give lawmakers another month to try to pass annual funding bills — appears to have worn McCarthy's patience thin.

  • "If you're not going to pass individual bills, if you're not going to pass a short-term (continuing resolution) that allows us to pass individual bills ... what do you want to do?" McCarthy said on Monday.
  • "If you run for office, you should be willing to govern."

The backdrop: More than a dozen GOP lawmakers, mostly members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, have come out against the proposed stopgap bill negotiated by some Freedom Caucus members and the pragmatist Main Street Caucus.

  • The bill would keep the government funded for 30 days with an across-the-board spending cut for every agency except the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also includes a bill to reinstitute Trump-era border policies.
  • The latest opposition came after Republicans had to cancel votes on several spending bills because of right-wing opposition.

The big picture: McCarthy isn't the only one irritated by his GOP colleagues on the right.

  • "We all are," Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) told Axios. "You can beat your chest and say you're more conservative than other members … but if you don't come together and unite, you're not advancing any of those principles."
  • Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) — who represents a district that President Biden won in 2020 — aired his grievances more bluntly: "This is not conservative Republicanism. This is stupidity … these people can't define a win, they don't know how to take yes for an answer. It's a clown show."

Those comments almost pale in comparison to what Republicans have been saying about each other out in the open.

  • Conservative Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) blasted McCarthy as "weak" in a statement opposing the stopgap bill. McCarthy, in turn, criticized her decision not to seek reelection.
  • Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who is leading the stopgap bill, and Matt Gaetz, another Florida Republican who's spearheading the opposition to it, spent the day going toe-to-toe on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
  • Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), the leader of the moderate Republican Governance Group, said of Gaetz: "What has he ever accomplished other than running his mouth?"

The other side: Some Republicans argued that the infighting is simply another routine aspect of democratic governance in motion.

  • "Discussion is good," said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member who opposes the temporary funding. "We're honestly trying to solve a problem, which is our national debt and our national security."
  • One senior GOP lawmaker argued that while McCarthy is "acting like he hates" the right-wing flirtation with a government shutdown, it's actually "the greatest thing that could happen to him."
  • The GOP lawmaker said that's because McCarthy can blame a potential government shutdown on the same GOP hardliners that have threatened to remove him.

Between the lines: Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) told Axios the discord is "kind of a re-litigation" of the House's marathon fight in January over choosing a speaker — a showdown that resulted in McCarthy giving considerable power to the right.

What we're watching: McCarthy and Donalds said they plan to make the case for the stopgap measure at the House GOP's closed-door conference meeting Tuesday morning.

  • Late Monday, however, the situation seemed unsalvageable.
  • One GOP lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, offered an ominous forecast: "Things will get worse before they get better."
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