Speaker Kevin McCarthy is working furiously to prevent another House floor takeover by his hardest-right conservatives as the GOP prepares to tackle some of the year’s biggest bills.
With the House back for a final stretch before its August recess, McCarthy on Tuesday afternoon summoned a group of leaders from multiple corners of his conference to shape a strategy for staving off further right-wing revolts — which his team can’t afford this summer. Underscoring the urgency of their task, the group of GOP lawmakers met in the shadow of what could become a new right-flank rebellion over the rule for debating a must-pass Pentagon policy bill.
“The speaker has called these meetings so we can get things hopefully worked out before it blows up on the floor, so there’s no surprises,” said Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett, one of the 11 Republicans who held up the floor last month during an ongoing rift with leadership.
But Burchett said he remained “ticked off” about a few other things, namely party leaders’ recent treatment of his proposed amendments to that Pentagon policy bill.
And he wasn’t the only hard-right Republican who left less than satisfied after Tuesday’s meeting — which party leaders described to members as the first of several procedure-focused discussions.
“They’ve got the problem of figuring out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together. I’m perfectly willing to cooperate. But we’ve demonstrated we can get to yes, that’s not the problem,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), another of the 11 conservatives who defied leadership on the party’s own agenda in June.
“I think sitting around in rooms, frankly, and for people to repeat things … [is] probably not gonna get the job done,” Bishop added. “I think they got to figure out another path.”
According to two attendees at Tuesday’s meeting, McCarthy’s general message was more philosophical about the GOP’s need for unity, versus prescribing a specific course of action for upcoming bills. The California Republican did signal his preference on one thing: Coming to agreement on funding the government before the current shutdown deadline of Sept. 30.
Republican Study Chair Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) summed up the message from leadership as: “Our goal is not to do a CR” — referring to a continuing resolution, the sort of stopgap spending bill that’s currently seen as inevitable across Capitol Hill.
But Republicans also acknowledged that they are quickly running out of time to avoid such an outcome — they would need to thread a veritable bucket of needles on spending decisions in just six weeks of session. The party is also trying to navigate growing demands from the right flank, many of whom attended Tuesday night’s confab.
In what could prove a bad omen, even McCarthy himself seemed to acknowledge Tuesday that his party’s goal of passing the Pentagon policy measure this week could slip.
“I never put it into this week,” he told reporters. “I was always very confident we’d get it done.”
The speaker and his leadership team have spent weeks working with GOP members and their Democratic counterparts to find a compromise bill that can clear the House with conservative votes — but also preserve the bipartisan support that the legislation has almost always enjoyed on the floor.
It’s not clear whether that compromise can materialize by Friday.
“I do worry about us. I worry about what we’re gonna do. Because we’re so fractured in so many different directions,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), who attended the meeting.