6 min read

The House’s unlikely kingmaker

A government shutdown was averted. But the drama is only beginning in the House of Representatives.
The House’s unlikely kingmaker

When I last wrote to you, on Friday morning, it seemed like the government was about to shut down. It didn’t. Here’s what happened:

Early in the day on Friday, 21 House Republicans joined with the entire Democratic caucus to sink House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s preferred stopgap funding bill, protesting that it wasn’t conservative enough even though it was loaded up with border restrictions and spending cuts.

At that point, it was clear there was no continuing resolution (CR) that the GOP holdouts would support. Which meant McCarthy had a choice: he could either plunge the government into a shutdown — which he had repeatedly said would be a political loser for Republicans — and then wait a few days before striking a deal with Democrats, his only remaining interlocutors. Or he could just rip the Band-Aid off and make a deal at the last minute.

About an hour later, the House voted 335-91 to pass a bipartisan CR, with 90 Republicans and one Democrat (Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley) voting “no.” By the end of the day, the bill had passed the Senate 88-9 and was signed into law by President Biden. As I’ve written before, Washington can move quickly when it wants to.

The agreed-upon measure will fund the government until November 17, keeping current spending levels intact — with the addition of $16 billion in disaster relief funding. The CR also reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) until November 17 and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) until the end of the year. No new aid for Ukraine was included.

Friday’s flurry of legislating was exactly the type of bipartisanship I like to highlight in this newsletter. Still, let’s be clear: it only kicks the can slightly down the road, likely putting us right back in the same place next month.

To fund the government for the whole year, the Republican House and the Democratic Senate will need to ink an agreement on all 12 appropriations bills, which they are very far apart on right now. Biden and McCarthy struck a deal on topline spending levels back in May, but McCarthy has ignored it so far to cater to his right flank.

Speaking of McCarthy vs. the right...

The looming vote on McCarthy’s survival

For weeks, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) — the ringleader of the anti-McCarthy faction in the House GOP — has warned that, if McCarthy worked with Democrats to pass a CR, he would trigger a vote to oust the speaker.

That’s exactly what McCarthy did on Friday. And on Sunday, Gaetz went on CNN’s “State of the Union” to announce his plans to hold a vote of no-confidence on McCarthy this week. “I think we need to move on with new leadership that will be trustworthy,” he said.

The move Gaetz is making is known as a motion to vacate the chair, and it essentially sparks a vote of the whole House on whether or not to keep the sitting speaker in office. Only two previous House speakers have faced motions to vacate: “Uncle Joe” Cannon, who survived a revolt from his fellow Republicans in 1910, and John Boehner, who resigned in 2015 before a vote on the motion could be held.

Gaetz is set to file the motion as early as today, which will set up a vote sometime in the next two days. The motion to vacate needs the support of a majority of House members — 218 if everyone votes — to pass, which means McCarthy can only afford to lose four of his Republicans. For any defections after that, he would need to dip into Democratic votes to stay in office.

Democrats would not necessarily need to vote against the motion to vacate to help McCarthy — they could simply not vote. That’s because a McCarthy ally will likely respond to Gaetz’s gambit with a move of their own, a motion to table his motion. If McCarthy can cobble together a majority on that vote, he’s (at least temporarily) in the clear. Every Democrat who doesn’t show up, or who abstains, lowers the bar of what constitutes a majority, getting McCarthy closer to being able to table Gaetz’s motion.

If that happens, the House speaker would effectively be holding office due to support from the minority party, something not seen since 1855.

Some Democrats, like “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), have already ruled out helping McCarthy. But others are already buzzing about what kind of concessions they might be able to extract in exchange for bailing out the speaker.

Most will look to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) for guidance, making Jeffries the unlikely kingmaker of the Republican-controlled chamber.

“I'm going to be taking my cues from Hakeem,” Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) told Axios. “Follow the leader,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Sunday.

Other dynamics to watch:

⇒ It would be hard to overstate how exasperated most Republicans are with Gaetz right now. One GOP lawmaker called him a “charlatan” in a tweet yesterday; another went on ABC to call him “mealy-mouthed” and “duplicitous.” McCarthy, who is normally a catch-more-bees-with-honey type, has grown increasingly combative towards the Floridian as well. Per Fox News, some Republicans are even considering a push to exact revenge: a vote to expel Gaetz from the House, pending an Ethics Committee investigation.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are pledging to hold a vote soon on more Ukraine aid, after assistance for Kyiv was left out of the CR. Intriguingly, President Biden seemed to suggest yesterday that McCarthy had privately promised to hold a vote on Ukraine aid in the House as well, but details of that agreement have yet to be made public if so.

⇒ Amid Friday’s chaos, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) was caught pulling a fire alarm in a House office building. Bowman claims that he thought the fire alarm would open a nearby door, and that he didn’t pull it to delay a House vote on the CR, which Democrats were then deciding whether or not to support. Republicans have called for an ethics investigation.

Thanks for reading WUTP this Monday, October 2. The 2024 elections are exactly 400 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

More news to know.

EMILY’s List head Laphonza Butler picked to fill Feinstein’s Senate seat / Axios

After 3 years, student loan payments are back / The Hill

‘My Body Was Poisoned’: Biden’s Lead Pipe Removal Plan Faces Hurdles / NYT

DeSantis Super PAC Cuts Back Iowa, New Hampshire TV Ads in Shift / Bloomberg

Rep. Dean Phillips exits House Democratic leadership after urging a challenge to Biden / NBC

The day ahead.

White House: President Biden will hold an event to celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act and meet with his full Cabinet.

House: The House will vote on four bills to rename post offices, and a bill preventing federal agencies from setting minimum education requirements when hiring cybersecurity professionals.

Senate: The Senate is not in session.

Supreme Court: On the first day of their new term, the justices will hear oral arguments in Pulsifer v. United States, a case on mandatory minimums and the meaning of the word “and.”

Lower courts: Today is the first day of Donald Trump’s $250 million civil fraud trial in New York. Trump is present in the courtroom.

Before I go...

Yesterday was Jimmy Carter’s 99th birthday. Carter is the longest-lived president in U.S. history. Five others have lived into their 90s:

  • Herbert Hoover (died at 90)
  • John Adams (died at 90)
  • Ronald Reagan (died at 93)
  • Gerald Ford (died at 93)
  • George H.W. Bush (died at 94).

Carter entered hospice care in February, when doctors told him “he would likely not live more than a week,” per the Washington Post. “Yet, he is still watching the news and ‘Law and Order’ on TV and talks to family and close friends about current issues and past events,” the Post added.

“He tracks the 2024 election and watches his beloved Atlanta Braves, who just made the playoffs.”

Read the Post piece on Carter’s 99th here for free. Including incredible photos of Carter and his wife of 77 (!) years, Rosalynn, at the Plains Peanut Festival just last week.

Thanks for reading.

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— Gabe