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‘F-bombs’ and veiled threats: House GOP reacts to impasse-busting deal

‘It’s going to be a problem at the end of the year,’ Mace says

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., left, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., were all smiles before a GOP conference meeting Tuesday that members said got tense.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., left, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., were all smiles before a GOP conference meeting Tuesday that members said got tense. (Bill Clark)

House Republicans at a tense conference meeting Tuesday morning reacted to an agreement to get the chamber working again with “f-bombs,” and worries of a fall spending cliff with no clear resolution.

Some emerged from a meeting of GOP leaders and the so-called “five families” that make up the bulk of the conference shrugging off the notion Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., gave away anything new during a Monday huddle with conservative rebels, saying they have never seen the two sides’ alleged “power-sharing agreement.”

“It’s good to have whatever you’ve negotiated in writing so everybody can see it,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., said following the meeting. “Everyone knows what sheet of paper we’re singing from, what’s been agreed to or not agreed to, you know, versus doing a handshake in a backroom where no one sees a lot.”

Monday’s agreement, which led 11 conservative holdouts, mostly from the House Freedom Caucus, to agree to end a stalemate over adopting rules that dictate floor debate and votes, was not done in any old Capitol backroom. Rather, the pact was worked out in McCarthy’s speaker’s suite during a meeting that lasted about an hour.

With members from the conference’s other political and ideological factions not included, however, whatever might or might not have been agreed upon never really “sees the light of day,” Mace said.

There was ample frustration with the rebels and the situation in general inside the conference meeting Tuesday, multiple GOP members said. There was even some colorful language.

Reps. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., and Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., voiced their frustration using “f-bombs,” said members granted anonymity to describe the scene in the Capitol basement meeting room. Lawler declined to describe what was said behind closed doors — but he expressed frustration with his conservative colleagues.

“What power-sharing agreement? The speaker [was] elected by the conference,” Lawler told reporters, before calling out two rebel members from Florida and Texas by name: “Matt Gaetz, Chip Roy, they’re not in charge. … They weren’t elected to lead the conference. So I’m not aware of whatever power-sharing agreement people claim there is — there isn’t.”

“I know you have a [GOP] conference of 222 people and they would all be well advised to remember that they are one of [222],” Lawler added. “The power of the conference resides in the fact that we have a majority. The majority was delivered by people in swing districts, people who represent areas [President] Joe Biden won.”

One of the 18 Republicans elected last year in districts that backed Democrat Joe Biden in 2020, Lawler offered some not-so-friendly advice to the rebels, whose districts overwhelmingly backed President Donald Trump in that election: “They didn’t deliver the majority. So you know, whatever power they think they have, we’ll see.”

Lawler spoke with a tense demeanor moments after members said parts of the conference session got heated.

“I think after Lawler spoke they said, ‘Hey, can we clean up language” reported one member who spoke on background, while also calling such private conference “vent” sessions “healthy.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a philosophic ally of the conservatives who had halted floor work last week but who has voted consistently with leadership, emerged from the meeting with a smile. He told reporters the House was about to get back to work on “the fun stuff” even as some of the rebels have openly mocked McCarthy’s bills on gas stoves, limiting the power of the executive branch and other coming measures as “messaging bills” going nowhere in the Senate.

But beyond Tuesday’s “f-bombs,” members are looking ahead to late September. That’s when government funding is set to expire, and shutdown worries were already permeating Capitol Hill hallways.

Reporters peppered Republicans with questions about a government shutdown this fall, noting the conservative holdouts say they got McCarthy to agree to write fiscal 2024 spending measures at fiscal 2022 levels even though the recent debt and spending package called for next year’s 12 appropriations bills to be capped at fiscal 2023 levels.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, announced Monday night — after the McCarthy-rebels meeting — that spending subcommittees would write their bills to fiscal 2022 levels. That’s a win for the far-right faction — for now, at least.

Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Monday that her panel will proceed as planned with a bipartisan process. That’s a signal the Senate’s dozen spending bills likely will bump up against the fiscal 2023 caps.

“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.

Gaetz was asked after Monday’s meeting with McCarthy what happens if the appropriations process does not go smoothly. “It better,” he replied, leaving his threat vague without explaining any potential consequences.

McCarthy in January agreed to change the rules for motions to try to replace the speaker, making it possible for one member to ask for a vote on changing leadership. That change makes one potential threat from the rebels clear, and it is prompting government shutdown worries.

“It certainly creates a problem, because you’re making promises you can’t keep. You’re writing checks your body can’t cash,” said Mace, quoting the 1986 hit film “Top Gun,” adding: “It’s going to be a problem at the end of the year.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., ended a hallway gaggle with reporters when asked what happens later this year when the Senate’s higher spending bills arrive. He attempted to slap a positive coat of paint on the chaotic start to the month.

“Obviously, we’re still in a lot of conversations,” Scalise said. “But we’re moving our agenda forward. And we’ve got a lot of important things on the agenda this week.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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