Credit where it’s due: I did not see House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finding the votes to avert a government shutdown this weekend. But he did, by passing a 45-day continuing resolution with the same contours as one that had overwhelming support in the Senate, except for one thing: It zeroed out aid to Ukraine, at least this time around.
Whoever’s idea that was, it was pretty smart. Even staunch Democratic backers of Ukraine support weren’t going to shut down the government for it. And they didn’t. McCarthy’s maneuver passed the House with 91 votes against it—and 90 of them were Republicans’. The lone Democrat, Mike Quigley of Illinois, chairs the Ukraine caucus and represents a district with a lot of Ukrainian immigrants.
Democrats declared victory, since what they passed contained none of the cruel domestic budget cuts and draconian border measures McCarthy had tried to push through on Friday.
In a press conference following the vote, McCarthy claimed victory too, saying he didn’t want to make the military work without pay because Congress couldn’t get its act together. He also chided reporters: “I’m sure every bet you had was that the government would shut down. I don’t know how many times you’re gonna count us out.” He peppered his remarks with barbs and even insults about the gathered media.
The speaker was no more gracious to Democrats after the vote than he was to reporters. First, he slammed President Biden: “Our president never once talked to any of us during this challenge of the government shutting down”—adding nonsensically, “He has been to more dinners with Hunter Biden’s business partners than he has to the border,” and later falsely claiming the president got $3 million for it.
“House Democrats showed zero leadership,” GOP conference chair Elise Stefanik added with a straight face, after more Democrats than Republicans voted for the stopgap bill. McCarthy got even more brazen with Face the Nation’s Margaret Brennan on Sunday morning: “I wasn’t sure it was gonna pass. You know why? Because the Democrats tried to do everything they can not to let it pass.” An exasperated Brennan couldn’t let that pass: “Democrats were the ones who voted for this!”
That seems especially stupid because McCarthy is almost certain to need Democratic support again soon, to survive Representative Matt Gaetz’s promised attempt to topple him as speaker. McCarthy himself agreed to a House rules change that lets a sole member move to “vacate” the speaker in order to get the job. Gaetz has repeatedly threatened to do that—but this time reporting suggests he’ll make good on the threat. McCarthy’s lies about them didn’t sit well with Democrats.
“The dumbest political move I’ve seen in a long time,” a “Democratic lawmaker” told Politico. “You need us, you fucking idiot!”
“We’re not saving the speaker,” Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal told reporters Saturday. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that she would “absolutely” vote to topple McCarthy.
It’s hard to imagine how Democrats would find a way to support him. Sure, they can try to exact concessions from him—that he drop demands for harsh domestic budget cuts in next month’s shutdown showdown, or halt the House’s impeachment inquiry into Biden. But why would anyone trust him? He reneged on the deal he made with congressional Democrats and the White House in raising the debt ceiling just last May.
Biden nodded to that history in his remarks after the vote.
“We should never have been in this position in the first place. Just a few months ago, Speaker McCarthy and I reached a budget agreement to avoid precisely this type of manufactured crisis,” Biden said. “House Republicans tried to walk away from that deal by demanding drastic cuts that would have been devastating for millions of Americans. They failed.”
“What we see about Kevin McCarthy is he’s untrustworthy,” House minority whip Katherine Clark told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday, referring to that May deal. “The ink wasn’t dry before he was back placating extremists.”
House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries hasn’t signaled whether he’ll help the imperiled speaker. Moderate House Democrats could buoy McCarthy without voting for him, by merely voting present, or skipping the vote altogether, which would lower the threshold he’d need to keep his job. As he has over the last month, Gaetz insisted this weekend that the House will open each day with “the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate.” McCarthy really shouldn’t be taking a victory lap, or insulting reporters and Democrats, just yet.