Senate Republicans are growing increasingly concerned with the antics of House conservatives as they paralyze business in the lower chamber with key legislative battles looming in the coming months.
Eleven conservative members blocked a handful of messaging bills from reaching the House floor for votes last week — and vowed to keep doing so — effectively grinding the chamber to a halt over Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) handling of debt ceiling talks last month.
This is giving Republicans across the Capitol agita as they brace for it to be a preview of coming attractions. Lawmakers still need to pass government funding bills, the farm bill and the annual National Defense Authorization Act, among other things, in the near term.
“They’re going to have to sort it out over there. Maybe there’s some bruised feelings. … There’s a lot of governing to do,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a former House member, told The Hill. “If you’re just going to pull the lever for the sake of pulling the lever — yes or no — as a protest, there’s too many important things out there that we need to have addressed with thought.”
McCarthy’s debt ceiling package won well north of a majority of support in the House, including two-thirds of his conference.
The bill received less GOP support in the Senate, where 31 Republicans voted against it, but many in the upper chamber gave the Speaker high marks for his negotiations with the White House.
Nevertheless, some Senate Republicans are dismayed by what happened last week with their House counterparts. Adding insult to injury, there is no indication yet that conservatives will yield and allow the House to continue to conduct its usual business when members reconvene on Monday.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a former House member who is a frequenter of the House gym during work weeks, laughed openly when asked about the House’s issues and shook his head before likening their actions to those of his grandchildren.
“They love attention, and they behave well when you’re giving them a lot of it. And then as soon as you’re done giving them attention, they get mad and you’ve got to give them more attention,” Cramer said. “I’m not sure some of them understand the magnitude of their responsibility, quite honestly. There’s a group of them, evidently, who didn’t want a Republican Speaker. They wanted a Republican king.”
“We have a majority in one chamber, but they’re not governing,” Cramer added. “I’m concerned about their ability to function.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) questions from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on March 7 in Washington. (Greg Nash)
The conservatives have met with House GOP leaders in recent days but have yet to ease up on their move to essentially take the House floor hostage. They are furious that the debt ceiling deal McCarthy cut included lower spending cuts and fewer Republican priorities than their debt limit bill. But their demands of the Speaker are unclear five months after they paved the way for him to win the gavel on the 15th vote.
None of the members has threatened to oust McCarthy from his long-coveted post, but the situation represents the biggest threat thus far to his short tenure.
Some Republicans indicated they are alarmed by what’s going on, but said that they are confident McCarthy will be able to quash the situation to allow the House to resume its work.
“The House is emotional,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told reporters, that it generally “reflects the mood of the country.”
“This is just the way, once in a while, people act out, and that’s just part of the process,” Rounds continued. “They’ll handle it. It’ll be okay.”
Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a former House GOP member who is an ally and friend of the Speaker, told The Hill he was not surprised to see the revolt and argued McCarthy is uniquely qualified to get the House train back on the tracks.
“Not at all,” Mullin said, echoing Cramer and labeling those involved as “attention seekers.”
“Kevin is very good at what he does. He’s got more relationships, he builds better relationships than any Speaker I’ve ever served with,” Mullin explained. “If anybody can do it, it’s him, and I’m pretty confident he can get it done.”
Lawmakers have already started staking out positions on the farm bill, which deals primarily with food and agricultural policy, and pressure has already started to mount on the push to move all 12 appropriations bills through Congress. A government shutdown could also be in order if the dozen legislative items are not passed, in addition to an eventual 1 percent cut on defense and nondefense spending if they aren’t passed this and next year.
Some GOP members are also warning about the party weakening its hand in talks if the continued intransigence by hardline conservatives stretches into the coming weeks as they have signaled a willingness to bog things down further.
“I just think they ought to take a deep breath, step back and imagine the next day if their position prevailed,” Cramer said. “What they will be doing is handing the control of the House of Representatives over to Democrats, and that’s the part that disturbs me as much as anything.”
“‘No, because it’s not good enough.’ If that’s going to be the prevailing position all the time, you’re going to just turn over governing to the Democrats. I wish they’d come to that realization,” he added.
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