As the Conservatives continue to rumble the House floor in protest, the Centrists are taking their turn to pressure Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Behind closed doors Wednesday, McCarthy’s No. 2 and No. 3 informed a dozen Republicans — mostly battleground members — of their plans to take up two bills next week: Rep.’s bid Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) nixes a Biden administration gun regulation and a separate bill to toughen limits on taxpayer funding for abortion.
The meeting did not go smoothly.
“Why the hell are we doing this? Rep. Nancy Mace (RS.C.) asked Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), According to two House Republicans familiar with the meeting.
Things got hotter from there, the two Republicans added: Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) confronted Mace for taking on TV and criticizing other Republicans for their stances on abortion. Mace responded that the party was losing the public opinion battle on the issue, arguing that veering further to the right would hurt the centrists who gave the GOP a majority.
The row between two rank-and-file Republicans illustrates the immense pressure McCarthy and his top aides are under as they try to push through conservative policies with a five-seat majority. Conservative hardliners have drawn attention by paralyzing the House floor, venting their fury at leaders for perceived broken promises, but centrists can wield similar power in their own way if frustrated enough.
In fact, the same tactics conservative hardliners used this week could convince centrists to join Democrats in stopping ground action next week using a different mysterious tactic. Losing ground on more agenda items would risk deepening the embarrassment party leaders have faced in recent days.
As they are torn by the two ideological ends of their conference, personal friction between senior GOP leaders is beginning to show — despite the top three’s public attempts at a united front. During this week’s Conservative Rebellion, McCarthy and Scalise began to openly accuse each other of sparking the outrage.
“They’re two good guys. Let’s stick together,” Battlefield Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) urged his colleagues Thursday. “Cannot be divided.”
Yet this blame game could continue as centrists push back against the abortion bill, which would make abortion limits, often abbreviated as the Hyde Amendment, permanent. It also extends funding restrictions to all federal funds, rather than to certain agencies.
Some Republicans are privately speculating that their centrists could be mounting their own rebellion by siding with Democrats to delay a final vote on the abortion bill – exploiting a maneuver the minority party in the House almost always attempts in vain.
It’s a huge change from the first six months of the House under McCarthy, when his leadership team mostly succeeded in glossing over deep differences within their conference.
But after picking up a relatively easy victory on an energy bill and a much bigger win — the conservative debt measure Democrats didn’t expect the House to actually pass — peace fragile GOP seems to have broken down.
At the heart of the discontent is conservative unrest over McCarthy’s debt limit deal with President Joe Biden. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who leads the Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus, said Thursday its members believe McCarthy’s promises in January’s presidential election were “significantly violated” in interviews. of the president with Biden.
Yet right-wing critics are often loath to explain exactly how McCarthy broke their trust. And asked if the frustrated Tories blamed McCarthy or Scalise, Perry offered a telling response: “There are obviously several issues here that need to be addressed.”
Beyond grassroots angst, the debt battle exposed cracks in the firmament of McCarthy’s leadership. The speaker raised eyebrows as he picked his own allies, Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (RN.C.) and Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), to take the lead in negotiations with the administration Biden.
Scalise and Emmer were largely sidelined until the final hours of talks, which ended up fueling frustrations.
These are all long-standing questions renewed about the tension between McCarthy and Scalise, who once stared openly at the speaker’s hammer. The duo were ready to erase their difficult past if November’s midterm elections had produced the “red wave” hoped for by the GOP, but the disappointing results and McCarthy’s battle for the 15-round presidency have rekindled mistrust between men.
Then, after McCarthy’s debt deal won the support of two-thirds of the House GOP, the far-right opposition metastasized into a ground rebellion this week. Which leaves most of the conference aggravated by the fact that about a dozen hardliners can successfully neutralize their own party leaders.
“You have a dog’s tail wagging. You have a small group of people who are pissed off and preventing the House of Representatives from working,” a visibly frustrated Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said Wednesday.
“I think the leaders are going to have to deal with it,” he added.
But how exactly McCarthy’s team might do that remains unclear. After hours spent failing to reach a resolution with the Tories, McCarthy was forced to send lawmakers home for the Wednesday weekend – buying time but creating frustration.
The leaders remain in talks with their critics, but even McCarthy complained on Wednesday that their demands were unclear.
“Some of these members don’t know what to ask. There are many different things that frustrate them,” McCarthy said. “We have a small majority. There’s a bit of chaos going on… We’re just going to work on the agenda and get it all done.
The House is due back on Monday, and Scalise has vowed that Clyde’s gun bill will pass the next day, although he acknowledged it was still short of votes.
And with Republicans particularly keen to show voters they can govern after a lackluster midterm campaign performance, any stalled ground action when members return next week is sure to cause the GOP’s blood pressure to rise. in the room.
“Of course I’m frustrated,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) said. “In my opinion, a Conservative should support the displacement of Conservative legislation. And this is not the case at the moment. »
Jordan Carney contributed to this report.