Speaker Kevin McCarthy left the Capitol before 5 p.m. Tuesday after a very unhappy hour, with his House GOP failing to open debate on the defense spending bill.
It was the second stumble in a day for Republican leaders who are struggling mightily to find the votes to pass their short-term funding plan – one they had hoped to tout as a consensus pact between conservatives and more centrist members.
But the purported deal still has at least a dozen no votes. Which brings us to the question of the day: How many of those no votes are actually flippable for GOP leadership?
The defense spending vote gives us some important clues to that. So it’s time for a breakdown of the House GOP holdouts, who fall into three broad categories.
The Maybe-Gettables: Certain House Republicans have either a record of relenting when arm-twisted or a disinclination to stay on the bad side of their leaders. This doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to give in and ultimately back the deal – just that they may be persuadable. Think Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.), a public critic of the spending deal who tangled with McCarthy this week but ultimately voted yes on the defense bill. And Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas), who’s also currently a no on the spending deal but delivered the speaker a crucial vote during January’s brutal race for the gavel.
The Wild Cards: Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), both of whom voted to tank the defense bill on Tuesday, fall into this camp. Norman is a member of the Rules Committee, which makes his support something of a bellwether if McCarthy has any hopes of resuscitating the spending deal. Which the speaker made clear he wants to do before he left the building on Tuesday with possible plans to return. Also in this camp – Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a frequent ally of McCarthy who looks far less movable on a short-term spending deal.
The Never-Kevins: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) Eli Crane (R-Texas) and Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) all voted “present” rather than support McCarthy for speaker back in January. And all are, perhaps predictably, now withholding their support for the spending deal. Gaetz and Crane voted for the defense bill rule (they both have strong military ties), while Biggs and Rosendale voted against it – but they’re all still in the hardest group of conservatives for GOP leaders to convert.
Add Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) to this list, too, even though he ultimately came around to McCarthy’s side during the speakership race. He later became the first conservative to openly talk about forcing a vote to oust the speaker.
The majority of House Republicans are only getting angrier as the holdouts dig in.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a top appropriator, lamented that “we’re being dragged around by five people, when 200 of us are in agreement.” (It’s more like 10-12 people doing the dragging right now, but we take his point.)
Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.) suggested that McCarthy try again to force passage of the defense spending bill on Wednesday, throwing the House into full Groundhog Day mode.
“You’re going to threaten us? Ok, here, go ahead and vote again,” Cole said.
Cole also suggested the speaker try to open debate on the stopgap spending bill, too – even though it is very much short of the votes to pass: “Just put your fingerprints on it and own it. I think the speaker is doing everything he can to give everybody as many opportunities as possible to do the right thing.”
Now let’s hear from an optimist: The chief of the GOP’s more centrist Main Street Caucus, a lead negotiator of the flailing spending deal, is still trying to keep it positive.
“People are still at the table. They’re talking and they’re listening. I get nervous when people pull away,” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) said in an interview.
But let’s get real: Until McCarthy breaks through with one or more of the holdout camps on the current proposed deal or seeks an agreement with Democrats, the House is in limbo. And even if the speaker can secure passage of the short-term plan hashed out by Main Street and Freedom Caucus members, it’s dead on arrival in the Democratic Senate.
What to expect there on Wednesday: We could see a Senate vote on breaking through conservative opposition to the three-part spending bill that had slowed to a crawl in recent days.
Sarah Ferris, Jordain Carney, Jennifer Scholtes and Olivia Beavers contributed.