Despite encountering numerous obstacles within his frail and volatile House majority, Kevin McCarthy demonstrated an unexpected proficiency in leadership, despite a grueling fifteen-round filibuster before securing the speakership. In comparison, however, McCarthy’s tumultuous eigth-month tenure may seem placid as he peered into the stormy horizon of the upcoming fall season, a time filled with uncertainty and the potential threat to his position.
As the House GOP members reconvened in Washington recently, a clamor for President Joe Biden’s impeachment reverberated within the chambers. Matters escalated further with a looming showdown over government spending, threatening to fracture the party and culminating potentially in a government shutdown.
As the threat of growing political tensions brew on the horizon, hinting at defining the 2024 election course, McCarthy will be put to test in attuning the demands of the far-right constituents, who consider a government shutdown as a viable tactic to impose their influence, and those of the moderate Republicans whose success in the upcoming year will ascertain if GOP maintains control of the House.
These tensions can be attributed to several elements, notably the influence, power, and future of the former President Donald Trump. McCarthy pledged loyalty to Trump, aware that his place within the Republican party would not be affected by his contentious effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election or the horrifying day when his supporters rioted at the US Capitol. Part of a broader stratagem, Trump loyalists in the House are pressuring McCarthy to initiate an impeachment inquiry against Biden, an attempt to undermine the sitting president and divert attention from Trump’s looming legal tribulations.
McCarthy, caught up in a tricky situation, seems to lack the necessary votes to open such an inquiry, despite the looming threats from hard-line representatives such as Matt Gaetz from Florida, warning that his position may be at stake. McCarthy might be forced to choose between appeasing the ardent faction led by Trump to secure his job or serving the long-term interests of his party and country.
Moreover, the feasibility of McCarthy retaining his majority will also hinge on his ability to navigate the intricacies of Republican politics, caught between the nihilistic tendencies epitomized by conservative House Freedom Caucus members and other Republicans fearing such extremism may hamstring the GOP’s electability among moderate voters. Earlier this year, McCarthy placated many of his critics by adeptly facing off over rising government borrowing authority, halting a potential economic crisis. A temporary agreement on spending with Biden only deferred his confrontation with his most staunch members, who are now demanding significant reductions in spending, possibly triggering a government shutdown – a probable political burden for McCarthy in an election year.
In addition to these internal pressures, McCarthy also faces daunting external challenges, such as managing America’s multi-billion dollar arms and ammunition aid pipeline to Ukraine, ignited by nationalist politics stirring Republican politics. Trump loyalists are echoing his calls for ending this financial aid. The contentious issue of Ukraine aid, along with differing views on government funding, is fracturing the GOP’s narrow House majority.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned House Republicans, questioning the critics of US support for Ukraine, “If the critics disparage the principle that we should oppose foes who invade and annihilate Western-aligned neighbors, how creditable is their commitment to protect Taiwan or other allies?”
The first test lies in preventing a government shutdown, with federal agencies slated to exhaust their funds by the end of the month. McCarthy seeks to pass a brief funding bill for now and postpone the climax for later this fall. But his resolution could be thwarted by hardliners who consider the prospective 2023 spending levels to be excessive.
Since McCarthy’s majority is slim, these members hold substantial leverage. He could try to pass a temporary spending measure with the aid of Democrats, but that could incite rebellion and pose threats for his position. However, freedom caucus member Rep. Chip Roy from Texas remaining opposed to the short-term extension, dismisses fears of political fallout for Republicans due to a government shutdown.
Even if McCarthy is successful in temporarily extending government funding, there’s no guarantee that he would get permanent spending bills approved in the coming months. With some Republicans hoping for massive cuts unacceptable to the Republicans in the Senate, let alone the Democratic White House, McCarthy finds himself leading a conference that includes members who view a shutdown as a mean to weaken the government.
Similarly, McCarthy faces the dilemma of whether to open an impeachment inquiry against Biden, a matter he has considered. Trump loyalists in the house want action regarding allegations that Biden’s family profited from foreign business dealings conducted by his son Hunter during his vice-presidency tenure. McCarthy may lack the needed votes for initiating the impeachment process. Just one of McCarthy’s challenges is to placate competing political factions within his fragile majority which the Republicans eked out in last year’s midterm elections. Although, he has so far managed to do it, merely by deferring intra-conference conflicts and eroding his already compromised power.
Even as a tempestuous autumn looms that may turn into a political migraine for McCarthy, he finds himself back in a well-known precarious position.