By The Herald Editorial Board
U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., may have thought his last-minute pitch Saturday to join “the adults in the room” and avoid a government shutdown by working with Democrats to pass a 45-day stop-gap funding bill would help him keep his job as speaker of the House.
But if he hoped that might impress enough Democrats to side with him and let him keep his role as speaker, he was mistaken. Led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., eight Republicans voted with Democrats present to remove the speaker’s gavel from McCarthy’s grip on Tuesday, 216-210, among a thin Republican majority.
This leaves until Nov. 17 for Republicans to pick a new speaker, approve 12 spending bills, and reach agreement with the Senate on the bills to again avoid a harmful and wasteful government shutdown.
That Democrats offered no lifeline to McCarthy should not be a surprise to the ousted speaker or others.
“The feeling among Democrats is they don’t believe McCarthy has been a trustworthy partner,” said Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who represents the Second District, during an interview moments before the vote to oust McCarthy was recorded.
McCarthy, President Biden and Democrats reached the outline of a spending plan in May that allowed the government to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a devastating default. Democrats, Larsen said, accepted spending limits in exchange for a two-year suspension of the debt ceiling, limits that were supposed to be reflected in the appropriation bills. But shortly after that deal, and facing criticism from Gaetz and others on the party’s right, McCarthy backed away from the agreement, calling its limits “a ceiling, not a floor,” and allowing Republicans to fight for even deeper cuts.
“That wasn’t the deal we made with the speaker,”’ Larsen said.
Nor are Democrats likely to offer much help to Republicans as they struggle to elect a new speaker and work to find a coherent message and agreement among themselves on how to adopt a budget that will win approval with the Democratic-controlled Senate and the signature of President Biden.
Democrats have signed on to the earlier agreement and will wait for Republicans to join them as agreed.
Democrats even budged a bit by agreeing to stop-gap funding that didn’t include immediate aid to Ukraine that Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and many Republicans support, with the understanding that a vote on Ukraine funding would follow soon.
“House Republicans have proven once again that they cannot govern,” said First District Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., in a statement after the vote. “From day one of this Congress, they have put their extreme, unpopular agenda ahead of the interests of the country. They have lurched from one manufactured crisis to another trying to get their way, putting families and our economy at risk.
“House Republicans alone started this leadership crisis, and they alone can resolve it,” DelBene said.
Larsen agreed, noting that Republicans haven’t asked for help from Democrats to moderate the inter-party dispute.
“This is the Republicans’ civil war, not a Democratic issue for us to resolve,” he said.
Even with the distraction of Republicans having to elect a new speaker, Larsen said passing all 12 appropriations bills can be done before the mid-November deadline. Even before the vote to depose McCarthy, two of the appropriation bills were on the House schedule for a floor vote and could be taken up Thursday. More bills, two a week, are expected to follow.
“It’s all doable,” Larsen said.
But it will take effort among House Republicans, perhaps with some prodding by Senate Republicans, to rein in the party’s extremist no-surrender faction and realize there’s no choice but to honor the earlier agreement, as the Senate — also closely divided between the parties — has been able to do. And as they could have done all along.
That’s the thing that McCarthy failed to realize was a requirement of being one of the adults in the room; it’s a full-time job.