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McCarthy suffers another embarrassment as shutdown deadline looms

As one observer put it, “Kevin McCarthy’s House Republicans are in a state of crisis.” Would anyone, in either party, seriously disagree?


For those who don’t follow Capitol Hill closely, I imagine phrases such as “procedural votes” and “adopting the rule” generate a lot of blank stares and shrugged shoulders. But there’s one key takeaway from the latest developments in the House, and it’s undeniable: Speaker Kevin McCarthy is failing in spectacular fashion. NBC News reported on the California Republican’s latest fiasco:

For the second time this week, House Republicans on Thursday failed to start debate on a key military funding bill after five conservative rebels blocked the measure over demands for additional spending cuts. The defeat marked yet another public embarrassment for Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans as Washington barrels toward a government shutdown.

Just so we’re all clear, this wasn’t a vote on a bill that would fund the Defense Department; it was a vote on beginning the debate on a bill that would fund the Defense Department.

That’s what adopting a “rule” is all about: Before a bill can be voted on, members adopt a measure to establish ground rules for the length of the debate, how it can be amended, etc. In nearly every instance, it’s little more than a procedural speed bump, because members vote with their parties to begin the process, even if they’re skeptical of the underlying legislation.

In fact, up until very recently a House majority conference hadn’t lost a vote on adopting a rule in more than two decades.

McCarthy has now lost three such votes — in the last three months.

Last week, after House GOP leaders pulled a vote on getting the ball rolling on this Defense spending bill, a Politico report explained, “To take a step back, this is a pretty dismal position for McCarthy to find himself in. He’s not stretching to pass a monumental piece of legislation. This is a routine spending bill — one that is typically the least controversial, seeing as it funds troop salaries and otherwise provides for the national defense. If he can’t pass this, what can he pass?”

A week later, the House speaker tried again, only to see a handful of Republican members derail the measure. This morning, McCarthy tried once more, only to fail again. Making matters slightly worse, the party appears to be regressing: Roughly 48 hours ago, this measure failed when 214 members voted “no.” Today, 216 members voted “no.”

If he can’t pass this, what can he pass?

Complicating matters, this isn’t even a good bill. Even if Republicans could begin the debate and pass the spending bill, it’s filled with provisions that would doom its fate in the Democratic-led Senate. Or put another way, GOP leaders are struggling to pass a bad bill that will inevitably fail anyway because too many of their own members don’t think the measure is radical enough.

But wait, there’s more: The deadline for a government shutdown is just nine days away, and McCarthy appears to have no idea how to (a) prevent that from happening; and (b) avoid blame for his own party’s debacle.

Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman noted a short while ago, “Kevin McCarthy’s House Republicans are in a state of crisis,” and I’m hard pressed to imagine how anyone, in either party, would disagree.

Postscript: Just as I was getting ready to publish, Sherman noted online that he’s received texts from inside the House Republican leadership in the last few minutes. One described conditions as “f---ing chaos,” while the other said the chamber has become “a total s--- show.”

 This post updates our related earlier coverage.