WASHINGTON — A faction of far-right Republicans has vowed to threaten to shut down government if the GOP regains the House of Representatives in the next election, putting Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a precarious position.
Freedom Caucus members said they would oppose any government funding bill that expires before the next Congress, when Republicans can control the chamber and have more leverage to make demands.
“We should not be funding a government that continues to allow borders to open to endanger the American people,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said in the House Wednesday alongside the Freedom Caucus chairman, Scott Perry (R-Pa.).
It’s an illustration of the challenges McCarthy, the current House Minority Leader, will face if his party wins midterm in November, especially if he wins by a small margin, which seems like a more and more possible.
Earlier this year, a poll suggested Republicans would take over the House in a “red wave,” giving them gigantic majorities. But the polls have changed and the latest analyzes of the To cook Policy Report says only 212 races are currently Republican, while 31 are draws.
Republicans need 218 for control. They could end up with a majority as slim as the Democrats’ current four-seat cushion, which was barely enough to pass a few token police reform bills this week.
During this time, a initial letter de Roy this week to oppose a bill on short-term funding collected 41 signatures from fellow Republicansand McCarthy said he would vote no as well.
Government funding expires at the end of next week, but Democrats plan to pass a so-called continuing resolution to prevent a shutdown and give current lawmakers time to craft a more comprehensive funding bill after the mid-terms – but before new ones are seated. Democrats can pass the resolution without help from Republicans.
The Freedom Caucus would prefer to wait until early next year — when the GOP might have more power — to vote on government funding.
“If we don’t get a change next week and we get a continued resolution through December, we should demand a change in December,” Roy said in his speech. “And if we don’t get a change in December, we should demand the change in January or February or March.”
The problem is that even if the Republicans take both houses of Congress, the Democrats will still have filibuster power in the Senate and veto power in the White House. The Freedom Caucus wants maximalist changes on immigration, energy and vaccines, but it will settle for a government shutdown if it can’t get them.
“I’m not interested in funding bureaucratic assholes who make my people less safe in Texas,” Roy told HuffPost on Thursday. “If Biden wants to shut down the government, it’s up to him.”
Roy served as chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the infamous 17-day shutdown he helped lead in 2013. That move failed to fund the Affordable Care Act of the President Barack Obama, but Roy noted that “Cruz did pretty well in 2016,” when he placed a distant second to Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary.
A spending showdown is unlikely in early 2023. Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are staging a lame vote on an omnibus spending bill that would fund the government until next year .
Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican ownership veteran from Oklahoma, told HuffPost that a short-term spending bill requiring high-stakes votes in February or March would be unfair to newly elected lawmakers who are still settling into their offices. And he suggested that trying to appease the Freedom Caucus would be futile.
“You can’t write an appropriations bill with a Democratic president and think you’ll get everything you want,” Cole said.
“I’m not interested in funding bureaucratic assholes who make my people less safe in Texas.”
– Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas)
But the Freedom Caucus will have other opportunities to make its point. Sometime next year, Congress will have to raise the federal borrowing limit, allowing the government to continue spending money as lawmakers have already demanded.
Conservative Republicans have increasingly sought to hold government solvency hostage to other demands. Just this month, Trump complained that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “ditch him for nothing” last year.
A President McCarthy would face a choice: side with the Freedom Caucus and threaten to default on the national debt, with potentially catastrophic economic consequences, or work with the Democrats and risk his leadership role.
The Freedom Caucus demanded earlier this year that a Republican House only pass bills with a “majority majority,” meaning it would not approve of McCarthy passing a bill with Democratic votes. It is no coincidence that he also called for a change in House procedure that would make it easier to expel the president.
Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) suggested McCarthy had done a good job of getting along with different Republican factions and might not have as much trouble. After all, McCarthy survived an audio recording that revealed he was considering telling Trump to step down from the presidency after the Jan. 6, 2001 riot on Capitol Hill.
“Do you remember when those comments came out? They stuck with him, which I think is proof of his efforts to bridge that gap,” Green said.
More importantly, Trump stuck with McCarthy, apparently welcoming the leader’s efforts to appease him.
Roy declined to say whether he would support a House GOP mutiny in a hypothetical scenario where McCarthy works with Democrats. Instead, he noted that McCarthy had supported the Freedom Caucus in fighting low-stakes spending.
“It’s a good sign,” Roy said.