Kevin McCarthy has officially lost all control of his GOP "clown show"

One big question remains, however: Who else can get the votes if McCarthy can't?

By Heather Digby Parton


Published September 20, 2023 9:18AM (EDT)

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to members of the media while walking through Statuary Hall at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, September 18, 2023. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to members of the media while walking through Statuary Hall at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, September 18, 2023. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

It seems like only yesterday that we were on the cusp of defaulting on the debt and many of us were predicting that the kamikaze Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives was going to make it happen. They sure sounded serious. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was unable to keep that extremist right flank under control and they were threatening to unseat him under the rule they insisted he adopt in order to get the votes he needed to attain office if he didn't meet their demands. With a four-vote margin, he had almost no room to maneuver. After the interminable 15 rounds of voting and all the backroom deals he had to make to get the gavel back in January, the prospects for a deal looked very slim. Yet, with all that working against them, McCarthy and President Biden surprised everyone by managing to pound out an agreement that could get the required number of votes in both chambers of Congress. A number of House Republicans were livid, especially the Freedom Caucus, and refused to vote for it. But Democrats filled in the gaps and saved McCarthy — and the country — from catastrophe at the last minute.

There was a lot of grumbling but no one took any action to unseat McCarthy. Instead, the House Republicans picked up where they left off with their performative investigations. But some of them aren't stupid and they knew they would soon get another chance to force their will on the country. While the debt ceiling deal ostensibly "capped" all spending at 2023 levels for two years, nobody said that appropriations bills which had to be finished by September 30 couldn't be cut to the bone.

And so here we are, less than two weeks before the deadline and no appropriations bills have been passed while the House GOP is at each other's throats. They may not even be able to agree on a continuing resolution to extend the deadline so they can keep the government open beyond the week after next. If McCarthy can't pull something out of his hat again, and it really doesn't seem likely, we are almost certainly headed for another shutdown.

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Last week McCarthy authorized an impeachment inquiry for Joe Biden without bringing it to a vote as he had earlier vowed to do. This was widely seen as a sop to the MAGA extremists who were shrieking "Impeach!" at the top of their lungs every five minutes despite the fact that there is no evidence to support such an action. It didn't work. Not only were they unsatisfied, but they believe impeachment isn't nearly good enough.

Last week the simmering feud between Matt Gaetz, R-Fl., and McCarthy finally boiled over when Gaetz openly threatened to take the necessary steps to remove the speaker if he didn't agree to all of his demands. McCarthy finally lost his temper and responded, "If you want to file a motion to vacate, then file the fucking motion." Shortly afterward, McCarthy had to forego plans to have the House vote on a defense spending bill because he couldn't get the votes.

"How about just move the fucking spending bills?" Gaetz fired back.

So that went well. And so far, this week it's going any better. Now the Freedom Caucus itself is at each other's throats. On Tuesday, five hardcore MAGA Republicans stopped that proposed defense spending bill from even coming up for debate, once again paralyzing the House and making it impossible to move forward. This maneuver is very unusual and appears to be a tactic designed solely to embarrass Kevin McCarthy.

When asked about it McCarthy was clearly rattled:

Ask those five why they voted against it.  Think about what they're voting against. They're voting against even bringing the bill up to have a discussion about it to vote on. If you're opposed to the bill, vote against the bill at the end…You could change it if you don't like it. But the idea that you vote against a rule, to even bring it up, that makes no sense to me,"

Mike Garcia, R-Ca., was also fit to be tied and called out his fellow Republicans. He said, "out of fear, they decided to vote against the rule to even allow this to come to the floor for debate, This city, Washington DC, is riddled with Chinese sympathizers." You read that right. He said those five Republicans were Chinese sympathizers.

Who else could get enough votes if McCarthy is forced out?

Things went downhill from there. Over the weekend, the Freedom Caucus and the leadership negotiated a stop-gap Continuing Resolution to take them through October 31st and avoid an imminent shutdown. It was a ridiculous agreement that no Democrats would sign on to but they thought they could bring together the GOP caucus to at least buy some more time. But no. When it came time to vote on Tuesday, the whole thing unraveled and 16 Republicans balked. McCarthy had to withdraw that one from the floor as well.

The recriminations were swift and nasty. The Daily Beast reported:

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who opposed the bill's continued funding of the office of Trump prosecutor Jack Smith, took potshots online at one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), who shot back, "You'll need more than tweets and hot takes!!" Meanwhile, The Hill reported that Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) blamed "weak Speaker" McCarthy, who hit back by calling Spartz a quitter for deciding to retire at the end of her term to spend more time with her family. 

Congressman Mike Lawlor, R-N.Y., told CNN, "This is not conservative Republicanism, this is stupidity, these people can't define a win, they don't know how to take yes for an answer. It's a clown show." That is 100% correct. And it's not going to get any better.

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I have no predictions as to where this is going to end up. A government shutdown seems to be inevitable, but we just don't know when it's going to happen. It's possible they'll get some kind of extension with Democrats' help if they can do it without any conditions. But Gaetz and his cronies don't seem to be in the mood for that sort of thing and they are obviously eager to call for a vote of no-confidence in McCarthy.

One big question remains, however, and it may be McCarthy's trump card in the end. As I've wondered before, who else could get enough votes if McCarthy is forced out? More importantly, what kind of masochist would want it? No, I think he's probably safe. The country, however, couldn't be in worse hands than those of this insane GOP House majority.

Late yesterday we had this strange report:

That it was found on a baby changing table in a bathroom is just too perfect. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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