As congressional Republicans continue to push the nation closer to the GOP’s latest government shutdown, it’s not altogether fair to assign equal blame to the party’s leaders from the House and the Senate. In fact, as Punchbowl News summarized midday yesterday, Republican leaders from their respective chambers aren’t on the same page at all.
Sometimes this week you may wonder if Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are even in the same party anymore. McCarthy and McConnell are diverging on strategy, tactics and legislative goals on a near-daily basis as Washington hurtles toward the third big government shutdown in the last 11 years.
It was earlier this week when the Senate’s Democratic and GOP leadership reached an agreement on a stopgap spending bill — called a continuing resolution, or CR — and on Tuesday afternoon, it received support from 77 members in a procedural vote. It wasn’t long before observers drew an obvious conclusion: If Congress is going to avoid a shutdown before Saturday night’s deadline, this bipartisan deal deserves to be seen as the solution.
A day later, McCarthy told his members that the Senate agreement would not come to the House floor for a vote. The problem is not that the Senate deal would fail. On the contrary, as far as the House speaker is concerned, the problem is that it wouldn’t fail: Democrats would no doubt vote for the bipartisan CR in large numbers, and they’d likely be joined by several House Republicans from competitive districts who don’t want to see a pointless shutdown.
McCarthy seems to realize that if he allowed a bipartisan spending bill to pass with Democratic votes, his most radical members would launch an effort to fire him. And so, even if the stopgap bill were to clear the Senate, the House speaker has no intention of approving it.
McConnell wasted little time in making his dissatisfaction known. “The choice facing Congress is pretty straightforward: We can take the standard approach and fund the government for six weeks at the current rate of operations, or we can shut the government down in exchange for zero meaningful progress on policy,” the Kentucky Republican said.
He concluded, “Shutting down the government isn’t an effective way to make a point.”
McConnell didn’t specifically call out McCarthy by name, but given the context, many congressional observers saw the remarks as unsubtle.
If this were an isolated area of disagreement between the two Republican leaders, it might be easier to overlook. But therein lies the point: McConnell and McCarthy have struggled for a while to read from the same script.
The Senate minority leader and the House speaker have, for example, disagreed over defense spending and aid to Ukraine. They clashed over giving Tucker Carlson access to Jan. 6 security footage. After Donald Trump was indicted, McCarthy scrambled to defend the former president, while McConnell did not.
Late last year, in the midst of a previous GOP shutdown threat, McConnell and McCarthy also differed dramatically on a stopgap spending bill, with the House Republican throwing some unusual public jabs at his Senate counterpart.
A few months earlier, Congress also passed a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown, and at the time, McCarthy’s leadership team directed its members to vote against the measure. McConnell did the opposite.
Similarly, while McConnell supported reforming the Electoral Count Act, the bipartisan infrastructure package, and the biggest gun reform bill in three decades, McCarthy opposed all three.
What’s more, the two Republican leaders have very little in common when it comes to how they approach Trump: McCarthy has been willing to sacrifice his dignity to stay in the former president’s good graces, while McConnell doesn’t seem to mind being on the receiving end of Trump’s contempt.
It’d be an overstatement to suggest that the two GOP leaders are somehow intraparty enemies. They’re not. We’re talking about two conservative Republicans in positions of power.
But it’s nevertheless obvious that McCarthy and McConnell differ more often than leaders from the same party generally do, and these differences are increasingly unavoidable.
This post updates our related earlier coverage.