House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has lost control of his caucus, as evidenced by his recent compromise with hard-line Republicans. While it restores the House to regular business on the surface, this deal poses a significant challenge to McCarthy and the stability of the country.
The Freedom Caucus was outraged by the budget agreement, considering it insufficient in starving the federal government of funds. Given the slim majority held by GOP in the House, a small faction of Republicans can join forces and obstruct the functioning of the body.
Last week, Matt Gaetz and his right-wing allies caused a standstill with a series of procedural votes. Gaetz declared, “House Leadership couldn’t Hold the Line. Now we Hold the Floor.”
The blockade has somewhat ended, but there are alarming implications. Gaetz referred to the relationship between the Freedom Caucus and McCarthy as a “power-sharing agreement.” This reveals a troubling dynamic. McCarthy had effectively given the Freedom Caucus veto power over most legislation brought to the floor. However, he bypassed them in the deal with Biden due to the urgency of avoiding default. The Freedom Caucus now reminds McCarthy that they can derail his speakership at any time, instilling fear.
What makes matters worse is their lack of good faith. Their stance is to rebel and paralyze the House whenever they see fit.
McCarthy stated, “The only thing we agreed to is that we’ll sit down and talk more about the process.” Gaetz added ominously, “If there’s not a renegotiated power-sharing agreement, then perhaps we’ll be back here next week.”
This is an unsustainable way to run a legislative chamber, but McCarthy’s options are limited if he wishes to retain the speakership.
This situation becomes even more complicated as the Freedom Caucus eyes the fall, when federal spending bills resurface, giving them a chance to exert more influence. They aim to make even deeper spending cuts than what McCarthy and Biden agreed upon, an endeavor unlikely to garner support from Democrats or the Senate.
As David Dayen of The American Prospect points out, such a scenario could favor the Democrats. Historically, government shutdowns have backfired on Republicans, forcing them to concede without significant gains. While this analysis appears accurate, it is important to acknowledge that many developments could transpire between now and October.
Nevertheless, at present, it is evident that McCarthy has lost a considerable degree of control over his caucus, if he ever truly had it. The reversal of fortune is striking. McCarthy’s deal with Biden should have solidified his position as Speaker of the House—an achievement that many, myself included, doubted he could accomplish.
Now, the California Republican faces a nightmare as his speakership hangs by a thread, with the most extreme House members reminding him that their support determines his fate. This could be a source of schadenfreude, if it doesn’t result in a harmful government shutdown.