Kevin McCarthy is the man nobody wants to be in Washington DC this week. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is, on paper, the third most powerful politician in the country. It was his dream job. But power does not seem like freedom. If McCarthy wants to stay in office, he won’t be able to accomplish his most important mission: keeping the U.S. government open.
The US is headed for a so-called ‘shutdown’. It was a time when the country did not have enough cash flow to run the government. It could happen as early as Sunday. Countless services would then come to a standstill, with major consequences for health, aviation, the military and social security.
Time is running out. Nevertheless, McCarthy was unable to reconcile his fractured Republican majority in the House for the necessary new funding. “We’re going to have a shutdown, and it’s totally McCarthy’s fault,” spat right-wing Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.
The leader was defeated by Getz and his group of supporters on the extreme right. Dissidents are demanding major cuts, including ending military aid to Ukraine. However, a funding bill with such clauses is guaranteed to die in the Senate — resulting in a shutdown.
McCarthy has an alternative: working with Democrats. However, the bipartisan bill that keeps the government running could be its last. If so, the right threatens to impeach him. The chairman is taken hostage with shield in hand.
“It’s a new concept where individuals want to burn space,” McCarthy complained. “That won’t work.” Nevertheless, he allowed this situation to develop.
Earlier this year, McCarthy agreed to allow any member of his board to file a motion to impeach him. This was the only way he could get support for his presidency from hardliners like Getz. McCarthy thus effectively allowed himself to be held in a right-wing grip: any opposition to their will would cost him his head. But this time the consequences are for the entire country.
A shutdown could send hundreds of thousands of U.S. government workers home without pay. Parks, museums and other public places will be closed. Soldiers don’t get paid. Millions of Americans who rely on government assistance, including food aid, could be in trouble.
The financial watchdog predicts that a shutdown would affect U.S. creditworthiness in international markets. Nobody on the left or the right wants that. “I’ve lived through shutdowns,” warned Republican Senator Susan Collins. “Whether you look at it through the lens of policy or politics, a shutdown doesn’t benefit anyone.”
The last government shutdown was in 2018 under Donald Trump. Later, about 800,000 government employees were kept home for 34 days, the longest shutdown in history.
Pressure on McCarthy is mounting from all sides. “Funding the government is one of the most basic, fundamental responsibilities of Congress,” President Joe Biden said in a video message. “If the Republicans in the House aren’t doing their job, we shouldn’t be voting for them anymore.”
Last spring, Biden and McCarthy struck a deal on government funding. Under pressure from his right-wing bullies, McCarthy cannot continue to negotiate without giving up his position.
On Tuesday evening, the Senate decided to take the initiative out of the hands of the errant House Speaker. There the members of both the parties held talks and passed a temporary resolution. It would keep the government open until November 17, with a wave of support for Ukraine – a strong example of political compromise, and a loss of face for McCarthy.
“That’s where Democrats and Republicans talk to each other,” Congressman Jim McGovern shouted in frustration Tuesday night, pointing to the chamber where the Senate was meeting.
President McCarthy may follow suit. But if he brings this Senate bill up for a vote, the right will almost certainly begin impeachment proceedings. They have said that any form of cooperation is considered treason. Former President Donald Trump has called for people to keep their backs straight regardless of the consequences. “Unless all is received, Close this!”, he hosted on his media platform Truth Social.
To the outside world, McCarthy is mainly trying to project peace these days. “It’s not over yet,” he told the assembled press on Tuesday, a warm smile on his face. Instead of cooperating, the president is betting all his money on a temporary resolution before Saturday, even if it is voted on later in the Senate. Shutdown or not: McCarthy will keep his job either way.
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