A disagreement between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House conservatives that jammed up legislative business last week eased Monday evening, but members of the rebel bloc made clear it may not be the end of trouble for their leadership.
Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz said McCarthy agreed to renegotiate the “power-sharing agreement” he worked out in January, when he won the speakership after three days and multiple ballots. Short of an unspecified amount of “progress,” Gaetz told reporters, “perhaps we’ll be back here next week.”
“That’s the hard part,” he said, “to continue to build off this discussion we just had. … Trust is a series of promises kept.”
Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale said future shutdowns were possible if they did not see “progress” — which he also did not define — in coming days and weeks. But for now, “the floor will be functioning this week,” he said.
McCarthy emerged from meetings saying “everybody’s attitude” was about finding ways to work together.
Asked about negotiating a new power-sharing agreement, he said, “I don’t know that there’s anything in writing here. The only thing we agreed to is we’ll sit down and talk more about the process.”
The threats from the conservatives about ripping up what McCarthy thought was a pact with the House Freedom Caucus and other conservatives that would keep their agenda moving is a blow after he recently declared a “new day” following a bipartisan vote on a debt and spending package that averted a federal default.
President Joe Biden may have had less discomfort than House GOP leaders in recent days — and he had a toothache that led to a Monday root canal. After all, the conservative bloc is now referring to bills McCarthy wants to pass with the 2024 election and his five-seat majority in mind as mere “messaging bills.”
Some Republicans told reporters Monday evening the floor could be back up and running as soon as Tuesday, including a possible vote on a rule setting up debate on bills that were stalled last week to deal with gas stoves and curb executive branch power, plus a newly added GOP measure on pistol braces.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, who chairs the Republican Main Street Caucus, said Monday evening he hoped there was not a repeat of the past week’s cancellation of floor business, but given the tight margins, it would not be a surprise.
“I don’t think there’s any certainty with such a narrowly divided House, other than the fact that we have got to come to the conclusion that we can get more done together than we can separately,” Johnson, R-S.D., said. “There are going to be times where I think we irritate one another and we’re going to have to take another pause.”
McCarthy talks to critics
Internal Republican disagreements on Capitol Hill spilled into the open last week when a proposed rule was defeated on the House floor for the first time in decades. The rift continued to percolate through the weekend, even as the indictment of former President Donald Trump took most of the attention.
Rep. Ken Buck, one of the House Freedom Caucus members who helped torpedo last week’s agenda, said this weekend at a conservative conference that the bills being held up would not become law with Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, anyway.
“We will keep the House floor shut down until we start getting answers from our leadership — Republican leadership — that takes spending seriously, and we start dealing with this,” Buck, R-Colo., said at the Western Conservative Summit.
McCarthy huddled with the critics Monday, with some emerging to say that a deal had been reached. Asked for his message during the meeting, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., replied: “Free the people.”
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., entered the meeting saying the group seeks to avoid “the wholesale destruction” of the country and its finances.
Rep. Tim Burchett, a Republican from Tennessee, said the five major subgroups within the House GOP conference had discussions over the weekend. “We have been in conversations over the weekend and I’m, and I’m glad the speaker decided to put everybody in the room. I think that shows some real leadership,” he said.
When key members with major gripes are left out, “people don’t have ownership of it. And things get lost in translation,” Burchett added. “And it’s just, it just gets confused and people get their feelings hurt, and then we’re right back starting over.”
The breakaway group was angry McCarthy had agreed to higher spending levels than were in a House measure passed a month earlier. After the uproar, McCarthy said spending levels in the final package were upper limits, and the House could write bills that spent less.
Any peace within the House Republican Conference is sure to be fragile, and the Senate appears poised to operate under the terms of the original agreement that was signed into law, at least as it pertains to federal spending.
Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Monday that she intended to proceed as planned with a bipartisan process. That will likely lead to spending bills written close to the limits imposed in the debt limit and budget agreement.
“I’m just going to work in a bipartisan way in the Senate to try to figure out a path forward. It’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen over on the House side, so we’re just going to proceed as planned,” Collins said.
Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon, whose congressional district Biden carried in 2020, said in a statement before the announcement of the agreement with the conservatives that he believes the conference needs to work together.
“When individuals divide the team, they weaken the conference and the GOP. The small group acts like we’re in a parliament in which the House majority can get whatever it wants,” Bacon said. “In reality, we’re in a bicameral with three branches of government and separation of powers. If we want to get something done it will involve working across the aisle. The small group of GOP individualists want a 100% and will end up with zero. I’m for getting the best results possible and that will take a unified team.”
Talks about not wanting to appropriate money for unauthorized programs also are in the mix, with Burchett saying he wants to nix funding for federal commissions and other groups Republicans say no longer exist nor function within departments and agencies.
“We waive that rule in every appropriations bill and we appropriate to these unauthorized programs,” Buck said over the weekend.
Some congressional Democrats expected the House GOP stalemate to end soon, saying conservatives feel stung by the debt and spending measure — and just needed to blow off steam.
“I view … what he was seeing [last] week as a kind of a temporary temper tantrum rather than evidence of real challenges that he has,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Thursday, referring to the speaker.
“I do think he came out of the situation stronger because he was able to get significant Republican support for something that was very positive, avoiding default,” Kaine said of the package McCarthy’s negotiators worked out with the White House. “He had a loud minority that was willing to … default, and he was able to stare that down and be successful. So, I think, succeeding on something important like that definitely strengthens his position.”
Whatever power McCarthy might have picked up from the debt fight was just enough to quell the conservative rebellion Monday night. But the far-right rebels made clear they were not afraid to apply the brakes again.
“We have to get comfortable with what Speaker McCarthy has said to us and that he’s kept his word,” Rosendale said. “That’s what we’re trying to … hold him to.”
Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.