Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is racing to break the lower chamber deadlock triggered this week by disgruntled conservatives, but rank-and-file members aren’t holding their breath for a resolution.
A number of House Republicans left Washington on Thursday warning the sides remain so far apart that it might require weeks — maybe longer — to get the House back to working order.
The conservatives are furious with McCarthy’s handling of last month’s debt ceiling negotiations, which led to a deal with President Biden loathed by GOP hard-liners who think the Speaker caved too easily on the Republicans’ deficit reduction demands.
As payback, 11 conservative firebrands — most of them members of the far-right Freedom Caucus — bucked tradition and opposed a procedural motion on Tuesday, blocking four Republican messaging bills from reaching the floor this week. Given the Republicans’ razor-thin House majority, that number was more than enough to sink the rule, bring McCarthy’s legislative agenda to a screeching halt and force GOP leaders to cancel three days of scheduled votes.
The House is slated to vote again Monday. But as the chamber recessed on Thursday, some of the detractors were signaling the blockade will continue until McCarthy can satisfy their ill-defined demands.
“I’m in no hurry,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) said.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who voted in favor of the rule Tuesday but has joined opponents in meetings with GOP leaders, expressed the same sentiment.
“Let’s face it, when we pass things around here that are messaging bills that don’t do anything, is it really a loss that we’re not passing anything?” Perry said. “And when we do pass things around here that actually hurt the American people, is it a loss that we’re not doing any of that?”
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a McCarthy ally who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said there are limits to how long the impasse endures before something has to give.
“One way or another, it’s gonna break. I mean, we’re not gonna shut the House down for two years, that’s for sure,” Fitzpatrick said.
But Fitzpatrick also suggested the stalemate might extend well into the month, saying lawmakers should “give ‘em a few weeks to work it out” before raising alarms.
As the standoff entered its third day on Thursday, the tensions were simmering over within the GOP conference, where a number of moderate members were lashing out at the conservatives for stalling the party’s agenda.
“I don’t even know what the logjam’s about,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas.) said. “Just a bunch of crybabies.”
Complicating McCarthy’s dilemma, the conservatives are airing their grievances without naming specific demands that might end the standoff.
“My idea is that he broke it, he’s gotta fix it, and that it’s not up to me to come up with a solution,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), former head of the Freedom Caucus. “It’s up to him. So I’m waiting to see what he proposes.”
The practical effects of the impasse are negligible. GOP leaders were forced to cancel votes on four proposals scheduled over three days this week, but they were all messaging bills with no chance of being considered in the Democrat-led Senate.
Politically, however, losing control of the House floor is a disaster for the chamber’s GOP leaders. And it’s raised new questions about McCarthy’s ability to unite his restive conference and lead the party heading into high-stakes battles with Biden later in the year, particularly on funding the government to prevent a shutdown.
McCarthy has insisted the impasse will only make the House GOP stronger — as he’d argued throughout his 15-ballot Speaker election in January.
“I know this job is not an easy job, I don’t seek it because it’s easy. I like the challenge and you know what, I’ve got a challenge,” he said Wednesday. “I will listen to them, I will respect them all, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to come together as one.”
Perry would not explicitly reveal whether the hard-liners plan to continue blocking rules until McCarthy meets their demands, but he also sent a veiled warning: “I don’t know that many rules will come up until it’s resolved.”
One bill that’s set to come up next week is at the center of the firestorm that helped ignite the rebellion: A measure sponsored by Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) to block the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from banning pistol brace attachments.
Clyde alleged that House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) last week threatened to deny a vote on the gun proposal if Clyde did not support the rule on the debt bill — an allegation that in part led to Tuesday’s revolt on the House floor.
Scalise, though, said earlier that day he had talked to Clyde about the measure lacking the GOP support to pass. Later in the day, Clyde emerged from a meeting with Scalise and said the bill would get a vote Tuesday. The two released statements Thursday endorsing the legislation.
It’s unclear whether the gun vote will break the impasse, particularly since conservatives have been mum on their specific demands. McCarthy has said their ambiguity is “the difficulty” preventing a resolution.
In the meantime, conservatives’ qualms with McCarthy are being heard loud and clear.
Boebert on Thursday said agreements reached during the January Speaker’s race had been breached, the “main thing” being a stipulation that Republicans would demand a cut in 2024 spending to 2022 levels in any debt ceiling legislation.
“That is not what we received,” Boebert said.
“We saw that agreements were breached from the Speaker’s race that we had in January, and I can give you 4 trillion reasons why we are not releasing control of the House floor at this time,” she added.
It is not clear whether such a spending agreement existed. While conservatives at the time called for a budget resolution within that framework, McCarthy has rejected the idea that he broke any of the agreements he struck with the hardliners.
“We wanted to get back to 2022 levels. We also know that we got to pass a bill,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday.
The difficulty with parsing out the details from January is that many of the agreements were not written down or made public. Republicans explicitly called for McCarthy to ensure any bill passed got support from a majority of Republicans — a bar he easily met — but they lashed out when the bill got support from more Democrats than Republicans.
“I don’t know the ins and outs or the details of what deals Freedom Caucus made [with] the Speaker’s race … which is why, like with the debt ceiling, everything we agreed to should be in writing so we can hold our leaders accountable,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said Wednesday.
Perry disagreed, saying he does not regret the absence of written evidence documenting McCarthy’s January concessions.
“We know what we know,” Perry said. “I just read a document in the SCIF. It doesn’t mean that I need a copy of it to know what was in it.”
As the talks continue and the legislative session drags on, some lawmakers are wondering how long the stalemate could stretch on.
“I don’t know how long it’s gonna last, to be honest with you,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Thursday.
“It could drag on, I don’t know, the rest of the Congress,” she added, laughing. “Who knows?”