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House Dems’ discharge petition clears one hurdle, with more to go

“It will take only five reasonable Republicans to end this madness,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said this morning. So where are they?


House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly said that the only debt ceiling bill he’ll bring to the floor will include Democratic concessions. The Republican’s position has been consistent: In this extortion scheme, no ransom means no vote.

House Democratic leaders, however, have long hoped to circumvent McCarthy with a tactic called a discharge petition. As regular readers might recall, if a simple majority of House members sign on to a discharge petition in support of a specific piece of legislation, the measure advances to the floor for a vote, whether the sitting speaker likes it or not.

With this in mind, the House minority party have been trying to force a vote on a clean debt ceiling increase ahead of the default deadline. The first hurdle was getting every member of the Democratic conference to sign onto the measure. As NBC News reported, they’ve now cleared that hurdle.

House Democratic leaders said Wednesday that all 213 members of their Democratic Caucus now have signed a discharge petition to bypass McCarthy and force a vote to raise the debt ceiling. It’s “another sign of the unity that we have,” Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., told reporters, “and we know who we are fighting for — it’s the American people, and that’s what continues to drive our work.”

There were two Democratic holdouts — Hawaii’s Ed Case and Maine’s Jared Golden — who have routinely been at odds with their more progressive colleagues — but this week, they finally came around.

“House Democrats are unified in avoiding a default,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters this morning. The New York Democrat added that “it will take only five reasonable Republicans to end this madness, to avoid the economy from crashing, to prevent a job-killing recession. ... Only five out of 222 to end this madness.”

That might sound like a relatively modest goal: If just five House Republicans sign on to the discharge petition and vote for a clean bill — the kind of bill members of both parties have supported for generations — the likelihood of default would dissipate dramatically. Surely there are five GOP pragmatists in the chamber, right?

Wrong. Those votes are still nowhere to be found, and by all appearances, they will not materialize. It’s worth understanding why.

Some of this is procedural: Even if some House Republicans were tempted to diffuse their own party’s default bomb, they know the clean bill would go to the Senate, where it would face a GOP filibuster. The odds of these members sticking out their necks for legislation they know would fail in the upper chamber are zero.

But let’s also not forget that genuine moderation in contemporary Republican politics is in short supply. Indeed, as we discussed a month ago, the GOP’s so-called centrists apparently agree with their party’s dangerous tactics.

I can draw this conclusion with confidence because Republican Rep. Don Bacon, who has a reputation as one of his party’s most unabashed centrists, told me so in January: The Nebraskan argued in no uncertain terms that his party is entitled not only to pursue dramatic spending cuts, but also to threaten our collective well-being in pursuit of far-right goals.

For months, Democratic leaders on both sides of Capitol Hill have looked at the House Republicans’ tiny majority and thought the GOP’s pragmatic wing would help prevent a crisis — either by rejecting the extortion plot, opposing the right-wing ransom note, signing the discharge petition, or some combination thereof.

But the party’s “moderates” are gone, leaving crisis conditions in their wake.