The House is expected to vote Monday evening on the rules package for the 118th Congress, in what will mark the first test of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s slim Republican majority after he made key concessions to GOP hardliners to win the gavel.
McCarthy’s concessions to the hardliners alienated some centrist House Republicans, and GOP leaders were racing Monday to alleviate those concerns. Sources told CNN that GOP leaders placed numerous calls and texts to Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who said Sunday she was “on the fence” over the House rules package.
McCarthy’s allies have been fanning the airwaves to try to clarify what is and isn’t in the rules package, particularly as it relates to defense spending.
Republican leadership is still confident they will have the votes for the rules package, but with such little margin for error – and this vote seen as McCarthy’s first test of whether he can govern – leaders are leaving little to chance.
GOP leaders are hoping to quickly push past the rules and onto their legislative agenda, with a vote slated for Monday evening after the rules on a bill to roll back $80 billion funding to staff up the Internal Revenue Service that was included in the Inflation Reduction Act, a massive social spending bill passed by Democrats in the last Congress.
Still, the skirmish over the House rules underscores the herculean task McCarthy faces as the leader of a House with a slim four-vote Republican majority that gives a small bloc of members on either side of the Republican political spectrum outsized sway to stand in the way of legislation.
In order to flip the 20 GOP holdouts last week, McCarthy agreed to a number of concessions. That included returning the House rules so that one member can move for a vote to oust the speaker. The California Republican agreed to expand the mandate of a new select committee investigating the “weaponization” of the federal government to include probing “ongoing criminal investigations,” setting up a showdown with the Biden administration and law enforcement agencies over their criminal probes, particularly those into former President Donald Trump.
McCarthy also signed off on a pledge that the Republican-led House would pair any debt ceiling increase to spending cuts and would approve a budget capping discretionary spending at fiscal 2022 levels – which, if implemented, would roll back the fiscal 2023 spending increase for both defense and non-defense spending from last month’s $1.7 trillion omnibus package.
Texas Rep. Tony Gonzalez was the first Republican to oppose the House rules on Friday. He said on Fox News Monday morning that he remained a no.
“I’m against the rules for a couple different reasons. One is the cut in defense spending, I think that’s an absolutely terrible idea, the other is the vacate the chair. I mean I don’t want to see us every two months be in lockdown,” Gonzalez said.
Mace said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” she was still “on the fence” about the rules package because she didn’t support “a small number of people trying to get a deal done or deals done for themselves in private.”
Republicans expected to back the rules package are also coming to grips with the concessions that McCarthy had to make to secure the speakership.
Rep. David Joyce, a moderate Ohio Republican, told CNN that McCarthy should be concerned that a single member can force that vote of no-confidence on the speakership.
“I’m not the speaker. So it concerns Kevin more than it concerns me, but that just took it back the way it was originally. And I don’t think that is going to change the way we do business around here,” he said, adding it should only be used in the most extreme of circumstances.
Asked if everyone agrees with that, Joyce told CNN: “Probably not.”
Rep. Tom Cole, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, told CNN: “I’m willing to cut spending and we need to do that. I’m not willing to cut defense and that is half the discretionary budget.”
Republican allies of McCarthy have sought to push back on the notion they will cut defense spending, saying it’s domestic spending that will be targeted.
“There’s going to be good conversations, there already has been, that you can’t cut defense, right? It needs to go on a very predictable trajectory,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican. “We have massively increased spending on the non-defense programs, because that’s always the deal, right? There’s plenty to work with there, in my opinion.”
House GOP leaders are planning to hold votes this week on a bevy of red-meat messaging bills on taxes, abortion and energy, starting with Monday’s vote to roll back the IRS funding increases.
The bill is likely to pass the House on party lines but won’t be taken up by the Democratic-majority Senate.