Speaker Kevin McCarthy didn’t know whether the House could avoid a government shutdown when he met with his divided Republican conference on Saturday morning.
But behind closed doors, McCarthy’s unexpected decision to take on his conservative critics quickly came together.
After GOP leaders prepared McCarthy’s conference for an indefinite shutdown, his allies grew uneasy. Rep. Bryan Steil took to the mic, comparing a shutdown to a bike ride down a treacherous Bolivian mountain known as “Death Road,” according to sources in the room.
If the brakes on your bike fail, Steil said, you are trained to turn into the mountain immediately, because the farther down the mountain you go, the worse the crash will be. The longer you go into a shutdown as a conservative, the Wisconsin Republican argued, the worse conservatives’ options will be.
Then, one by one, vulnerable New York Republicans – Reps. Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro and Nick LaLota – spoke in support of a short-term funding bill, warning of the political blowback of a shutdown and calling on their colleagues to keep the government open.
The speaker was ready to move. Turning to his conference, McCarthy asked, “Do we want to jam the Senate?” to loud cheers from his allies. McCarthy turned to an aide and asked how quickly they could go to the floor – a “clean” stopgap bill had already been filed late Friday night.
Fifteen minutes, the aide responded.
With that, McCarthy took the only option on the table to avoid a government shutdown, relying on Democratic votes to pass a continuing resolution Saturday to keep the government funded until mid-November.
But in so doing, McCarthy opened up a fight with the right wing of his conference, which had warned him for weeks that taking this step could mean the end of his speakership.
“If Speaker McCarthy relies on Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, I would call the Capitol moving truck to his office pretty soon because my expectation would be he’d be out of the Speaker’s office quite promptly,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz told CNN earlier this week.
What we know: The earliest McCarthy’s critics could start the process to oust him is Monday, when the House will be back in session.
For House Democrats, it took a little bit of time Saturday – along with the pulling of a fire alarm in a House office building – but they ultimately chose to join Republicans to pass the stopgap funding measure.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that they intend to help McCarthy keep his job as speaker. House Democratic leaders said in a statement Saturday evening they expect McCarthy to allow for a vote on a bill on supporting Ukraine.
But McCarthy’s allies are confident that an overwhelming number of House Republicans support the speaker and that Democrats won’t help Gaetz throw the House into chaos – especially after McCarthy helped avert a shutdown, part of the speaker’s calculation in making such a move.