Last week, as House Republicans struggled mightily to approve spending bills that would prevent a government shutdown, Donald Trump sided with GOP radicals against the party leadership. The radicals noticed: Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida declared online that he and his cohorts must “hold the line” because the former president was on their side.
This week, ahead of Saturday’s shutdown deadline, it’s happening again. NBC News reported:
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s attempts to avoid a government shutdown just became more complicated after former President Donald Trump stepped in to endorse the tactics of far-right House Republicans, who prefer to see a funding lapse than compromise with the Democratic-led Senate and White House.
In a rambling missive published to his social media platform on Sunday night, Trump wrote that the party “lost big” during the debt ceiling fight but can redeem itself by rejecting compromises now. “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!” the former president wrote.
In the same harangue, he added that he’s confident that President Joe Biden “will be blamed” for the shutdown, even if it’s GOP lawmakers who are responsible. (Given his track record on the subject, I'm hard pressed to imagine why anyone would take his strategic advice on the matter seriously.)
As was the case last week, the party’s pro-shutdown contingent is delighted to have the support. Punchbowl News reported, “Several House conservatives are rallying around former President Donald Trump’s repeated calls to oppose a short-term stopgap funding bill as Congress faces a government shutdown deadline in just five days.”
Stepping back, it’s important to emphasize that the partisan lines can get a little blurry, and it’s best not to think of the GOP factions in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” McCarthy, for example, would prefer not to see a government shutdown this week — he’s told his conference more than once it would cause new problems for the party — but if he were serious about preventing such a crisis, the House speaker could simply cut a deal with Democrats, keep the government’s lights on, and accept the consequences.
The fact that McCarthy has refused to take such a step, at least so far, makes clear that the California Republican isn’t exactly the hero of this messy tale, valiantly trying to do the right thing while combatting the extremists in his midst.
That said, it’s also fair to say that the House speaker and the former president are pushing in opposite directions: McCarthy doesn’t want a shutdown and has asked his members to accept concessions; Trump is telling those same members to only accept “everything” without regard for the shutdown deadline.
The result is an emboldened group of GOP radicals, who believe the former president — and the frontrunner for the party’s 2024 nomination — is giving them all the cover they need to keep thumbing their noses at the House Republican leadership team.
It’s against this backdrop that the House is expected to begin work today on several individual appropriations bills, each of which have been designed to gain conservative support. If the House GOP majority fails to pass them, it will move the country closer to a government shutdown in four days.
If, however, Republican members succeed in advancing the spending bill, that will also move the country closer to a government shutdown in four days, because the measures will never receive support from the Democratic-led Senate or the White House.
The deadline is Saturday night at midnight. Watch this space.