McCarthy’s resistors face their own challenges. Their amorphous group isn’t in sync on what they want to extract from him, such as the size of extra spending cuts and speed of a Biden impeachment — or how aggressively to pursue an effort to evict him.
That gang of gadflies includes some of the original 20 defectors during the January speaker’s race, though it’s expanded to include other members angered by the debt deal such as Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) and Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.).
McCarthy loyalists — a contingent that remains as strong as ever — say the speaker should tune out the hardliners.
“There’s at least 180 of us that will vote for the speaker 15 more times if we’ve got to. So we just can’t be held hostage to a threat …We’re talking about a small minority who want to control the conference,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said, adding that Republicans “should support Kevin” on a short-term patch to stave off a shutdown.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, another ally, said that the Freedom Caucus antagonized Boehner far more than McCarthy. The South Dakota Republican added that McCarthy “has built up a lot of capital with conservatives,” implying that could help the Californian avoid a similar fate.
What’s less clear is how McCarthy can maintain that capital over the next several weeks, which will almost certainly force him to lean on Democratic votes to pass Congress’ annual fall to-do list.
For many ultraconservatives, McCarthy’s decision to accept help from House Democrats — particularly on spending — could be a dealbreaker.
“If McCarthy relies too much on Democrats, will he survive? Maybe. Maybe not,” Buck said.
One senior pro-McCarthy Republican, granted anonymity to candidly address the speaker’s future, recounted warning leadership that “it would be a mistake” to assume the Freedom Caucus is alone in its spending demands. And, the lawmaker acknowledged, getting help from Democrats on a funding patch would create “jeopardy” for his speakership.
“I know the speaker is concerned” that a lone conservative could force a vote to strip his gavel should he work with Democrats, this Republican added.
GOP hardliners’ biggest priority at the moment is spending cuts. They want to cut funding for the fiscal year to roughly $120 billion less than what was agreed to in the Biden-McCarthy debt deal in May.
While McCarthy and his team have generally agreed to those lower levels, there’s no agreement on how to get there via the existing GOP spending bills. That could threaten leadership’s plan to start moving at least one of those bills this week.