For House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to be successful over the next several months in negotiating with the White House, the Senate and his own team, he needs always to seek to please a majority of his majority.
For House Republicans to be successful, they need their majority to act like the majority.
McCarthy has several leverage points in his favor and several problems that come inherent with a small majority.
First, the leverage points in his favor. He doesn’t have much that he is desperately trying to get done. He has automatic spending cuts that come into play should Congress not complete all its spending work in a timely fashion. And his chief nemesis, President Biden, seems incapable of clear communication and is bedeviled by low approval ratings.
He also is blessed that two of his biggest internal critics, Reps. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.), are on the wrong side of the Donald Trump sweepstakes. While McCarthy is good with the likely GOP presidential nominee, both Roy and Buck got kicked off the former president’s Christmas card list a while ago.
If Trump weighs in, I doubt it will be in support of the rebels.
A government shutdown seems likely, but not for any other reason than sheer incompetence on the part of all the actors involved on all sides of the debate. House Democrats aren’t in much of a mood to bail out Speaker McCarthy, so they will vote to kill the rule bringing a continuing resolution to the floor.
In a perfect world, those no votes should accrue them the same blame that the five to 10 Republicans who like to vote no on everything will get from the mainstream media. But we live more in dystopia than utopia, so they will escape any blame.
And that goes back to the basic premise.
For House Republicans to win this debate, they need more than a majority of the majority to act like the majority. They need the whole team.
President Biden and his team are assembling their own leverage points. They’ll be supported by the mainstream media, which have always been helpful to the Democrats when an intense budget negotiation takes place. The White House will call out the Republicans for irresponsibly cutting government spending, which may work in some swing districts.
And they will link MAGA Republicans with Donald Trump and try to make the case that the GOP cannot be trusted to run the government.
The president will also call the Republicans callous and irresponsible for not approving emergency relief spending for Hawaii and Florida and other places that need help from FEMA.
But unlike McCarthy, Biden wants things in this negotiation. He wants more money for Ukraine. He wants to appoint a replacement for Mark Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He wants to keep the government open because he is the one in charge of running it. He wants to avoid a 1 percent across the board cut of all government spending. He wants the economy to keep growing. And he wants to project strength at home and internationally.
A long-term shutdown does not help Joe Biden on any of these fronts.
Unlike in the debt limit negotiations, where the Senate allowed the House to take the lead in negotiating with the president, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are unlikely to sit this one out.
McConnell has made it clear that he wants the Ukrainian money and has indicated that he will work with his Democratic counterpart to start consideration on several spending bills that spend a lot more money than his House Republican allies can stomach.
This comes with some risks for the Republican leader, who seems to be on a different page than the GOP’s more populist Trump wing.
Bipartisanship will strengthen the hands of the Senate as it seeks to find a compromise with the House, where bipartisanship seems unattainable. For House Republicans, the only way they can truly hope to reach an honorable compromise is to come together and do better than just a simple majority of their majority.
They must act like a majority. All of them.
Feehery, a partner at EFB Advocacy, blogs at thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.