Editorial: Kevin McCarthy’s fealty to right-wing extremists makes a government shutdown more likely

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) stops on Monday for reporters’ questions about passing a funding bill and avoiding a government shutdown.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

A shutdown of the federal government, even if only temporary, would needlessly disrupt the lives of public employees and citizens who depend on government services. But, despite a flurry of activity on Capitol Hill, such a calamity remains all too possible next month.

The explanation is tiresomely familiar: the obstructionism of a small band of hard-line House Republicans. On Thursday these dissenters embarrassed Speaker Kevin McCarthy by blocking consideration of a Pentagon funding bill, the second such vote in a week. Opposition from extreme right-wing members is also complicating McCarthy’s attempt to advance a continuing resolution, a stopgap measure to keep the government operating after Sept. 30.

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Ideally McCarthy would be able to attract Democratic votes to protect the national interest, as he did in May when the House approved legislation to suspend the debt ceiling and forestall a default. That vote was a model of the sort of bipartisan compromise that should be the norm in a divided Congress.

But proposals by House Republicans for a continuing resolution — needed because of a lack of progress on specific appropriations bills — offer Democrats little incentive to come to McCarthy’s rescue.

The latest proposal, discussed at a House Republican conference meeting on Wednesday, reportedly is for a 31-day stopgap funding bill that would impose limits on spending more restrictive than what Democrats want and include measures to curb immigration. McCarthy has sought to link the stopgap measure to some of the provisions of a bill passed by the House, which includes a resumption of construction of a border wall and restrictions on asylum.

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Even if Democrats were willing to support a continuing resolution, a decision by McCarthy to rely on Democratic votes probably would increase the possibility of an attempt by extreme Republicans to unseat him from the leadership role he narrowly achieved on the 15th ballot.

An additional complication is the decision by former President Trump, who is a favorite of many House Republicans, to inject himself into the shutdown debate. On Wednesday Trump posted this call to arms on Truth Social: “A very important deadline is approaching at the end of the month. Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State. This is also the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me and other Patriots.”


(In fact, it’s unlikely that a shutdown would interfere with the federal prosecutions of Trump. Just add that to the ever-growing pile of the former president’s lies and distortions.)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he won’t give up in trying to pass a conservative bill to prevent a government shutdown.

Sept. 20, 2023

McCarthy might still cobble together enough votes to win the support of a majority of Republicans for a continuing resolution, which would then have to be reconciled with or replaced by what is likely to be a less extreme Senate version.

Yet if dissenters continue to stymie his efforts, the speaker should stop accommodating them and reach out to Democrats as he did when he secured an agreement with the White House on suspending the debt ceiling. By now McCarthy should have realized that placating the extremists in his ranks — including by announcing a meritless impeachment inquiry into Biden — only emboldens them