Rep. Kevin McCarthy could face big trouble if GOP wins a small majority in the house

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WASHINGTON — A faction of far-right Republicans has all but promised to threaten a government shutdown if the GOP wins back the House of Representatives in the upcoming election, leaving leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a precarious position .

Members of the Freedom Caucus have said they will oppose any government funding bill that expires before the next Congress, when Republicans can control the chamber and have more leverage to make demands.

“We should not fund a government that continues to allow open borders to endanger the American people,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) on the House floor next to Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) on Wednesday.

It illustrates the challenges McCarthy, the current minority leader of the House, will face if his party gains the upper hand in November’s midterm elections – especially if it wins by a narrow margin, which seems increasingly possible.

Earlier this year, polls suggested Republicans would retake the House in a “red wave,” giving them massive majorities. But the polls have shifted and the latest analysis of the Cook politics Report says only 212 races are currently leaning Republican, while 31 are toss-ups.

Republicans need 218 for control. They could end up with a majority as thin as the Democrats’ current four-seat cushion, which was barely enough to pass a few symbolic police reform bills this week.

US Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) speaks at a news conference with members of the House Freedom Caucus on Sept. 15 in Washington.

Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Government funding will expire at the end of next week, but Democrats plan to pass a so-called rolling resolution to avoid a shutdown and give current lawmakers time for a more complete funding bill after the midterms — but before any new ones in power. Democrats can pass the resolution without help from Republicans.

The Freedom Caucus prefers to wait until early next year — when the GOP may have more power — to vote on government funding.

“If we don’t get change next week and we get a lasting resolution in December, then we should demand change in December,” Roy said in his speech. “And if we don’t get change in December, we have to demand change in January or February or March.”

The problem is, even if the Republicans take both houses of Congress, the Democrats will still have filibuster power in the Senate and veto power in the White House. The Freedom Caucus wants maximalist changes in immigration, energy and vaccines, but will settle for a government shutdown if it can’t get it.

Roy served as Senator Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) chief of staff during the infamous 17-day shutdown he helped lead in 2013. The move failed to downgrade then-President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but Roy noted that “Cruz did quite well in 2016,” when he took a distant second to Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primaries.

A spending showdown is unlikely in early 2023. Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate credit committees hold a soft vote on an omnibus spending bill that would fund the government until next year.

Rep. Tom Cole, a veteran Republican appropriator from Oklahoma, told The Singapore Time that a short-term bill requiring high stakes in February or March would be unfair to newly elected lawmakers still settling in their offices. And he suggested that it would be futile to try to propitiate the Freedom Caucus.

“You can’t write a credit bill with a Democratic president and think you’re getting everything you want,” Cole said.

“I’m not interested in funding bureaucratic bastards that make my people less safe in Texas.”

– Rep. Chip Roy (R Texas)

Conservative Republicans have increasingly sought to hold the government’s credit hostage to other demands. Just this month, Trump complained that Senate minority group leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave up last year “for nothing.”

A chairman McCarthy would be faced with a choice: side with the Freedom Caucus and threaten debt default, with potentially catastrophic economic consequences, or team up with Democrats and risk his leadership role.

The Freedom Caucus earlier this year demanded that a Republican House pass bills only by a “majority vote,” meaning it would not approve McCarthy passing a bill with Democratic votes. Not coincidentally, it has also looked for a change to the House procedure that would make it easier to kick the speaker out.

A member of the Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), suggested that McCarthy has done a good job dealing with several Republican factions and that he may not be having a hard time. After all, McCarthy survived an audio recording that showed he was thinking about telling Trump to resign the presidency after the January 6, 2001 Capitol riot.

“Remember when those comments came out? They stayed with him, which I think is evidence of his efforts to bridge that gap,” Green said.

Most importantly, Trump has stuck with McCarthy, seemingly delighted by the leader’s attempts to placate him.

Roy declined to say whether he would support a House GOP mutiny in a hypothetical scenario where McCarthy is teaming up with Democrats. Instead, he noted that McCarthy had supported the Freedom Caucus in its fight against low-stakes lame duck spending.

“That’s a good sign,” Roy said.

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