Whether we look at the scary array of GOP presidential candidates, the rulings of the extremely conservative Supreme Court, or the braying of the unhinged House Republicans, there’s definitely no sense of moderation. It’s radicalism all down the line, which is why Republican members of Congress serving in districts that Joe Biden won in 2020 are nervous. They know their seats are the first to fall if the political tide moves even slightly against their party in the 2024 elections. They know there’s a backlash coming, and they’re desperate to mute the effects.
Marianna Sotomayor and Leigh Ann Caldwell of the Washington Post have an article about this on Monday, and it’s exactly what you’d expect but with a little twist.
A small group of staunch conservatives last month blocked any bills from being considered on the House floor for more than a week, a rebuke to McCarthy over a debt ceiling bill they thought was subpar. That blockade was followed by a string of votes, forced by House Freedom Caucus members, on red-meat issues to satiate the base…
…The House’s focus on the far-right’s demands over the past month has irritated Republicans who represent swing districts or are worried that an extreme legislative agenda will push voters away and hand the House majority to Democrats in 2024. So they are learning to flex their procedural muscles, largely behind the scenes, to keep some proposals they see as most damaging off the House floor.
What follows are some fairly weak examples of “moderate” House Republicans defeating anti-abortion or immigration amendments in committee or convincing the leadership not to bring a divisive bill or two to the floor. There are a couple of instances of New York Republicans killing off anti-labor amendments. which is nice to see.
It’s not clear these Republicans are really any different than their more fire-breathing peers, but they don’t want to be defeated and they see nothing but danger in continually holding messaging votes that don’t fit their constituencies and will never get through the Democratically controlled Senate or past President Biden’s veto pen. They like to point out that the Republicans have a mere five-seat majority so even the far right should understand it’s a bad idea to weaken their most vulnerable members.
As Ed Kilgore noted last year, by 2018 there were no pro-choice House Republicans left. But now that abortion is not constitutionally protected and Republican state legislatures are racing to ban it or make it impractical, we’re seeing “moderate” Republican House members quietly work to defeat abortion legislation. Maybe this is a first step, and the second step will be the reemergence of a few officially pro-choice Republican officeholders, but I wouldn’t hold my breath thinking this will happen anytime soon. It’s too hard to win a Republican primary with a pro-choice stance regardless of the makeup of the district.
All of this is small potatoes compared to what’s coming with Congress’s appropriations bills. There’s simply no way Speaker Kevin McCarthy, using only Republican votes, will be able to pass bills to keep the government operating that will jibe with the priorities of Senate Democrats or the administration. In fact, as the Washington Post article cited above makes clear, even if he attempts it, McCarthy won’t likely avoid a rebellion by a faction of his “pragmatists.”
A growing fear among many Republicans is that Freedom Caucus members will force a government shutdown over spending cuts — a position some have publicly taken. While pragmatic lawmakers would vote to fund the government, reopening it might mean relying on Democrats again, a position that irked the far-right during the debt ceiling fight and caused them to again go after McCarthy.
Preliminary conversations on ways to circumvent what they say is far-right obstruction on the House floor have already taken place among some Republicans.
“If it continues, we’re going to have to come up with a different role with Democrats,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said. “We’re going to have to work around these guys,” he said of his Republican colleagues who have held up floor activity.
All of this is just a documentation of a granular level of what I told you would happen way back in January when McCarthy was struggling to win the Speakership. I was skeptical he would survive the debt ceiling crisis, and I’ll give him credit for exceeding my expectations, but it came with a cost. He burned his far right fringe once, and they will be less forgiving the second time around. Everyone can see what’s coming. To keep the government open, moderate pragmatic House Republicans will cut a deal with the Democrats. If McCarthy presides over this and lets it go ahead, he will either be ousted by the right or he’ll become the Speaker of a majority-Democratic governing coalition. That will ultimately be the Democrats’ choice, because they don’t have to support McCarthy when he’s challenged. They could let him fall and work with the same coalition to find a more suitable leader.
What I’m saying basically is that these handful of scared Biden-district House Republicans have a ton of power and it’s not really a story that they’re using a tiny bit of it to quietly nibble away at extreme anti-choice, anti-labor and anti-immigrant legislation. The real story will come when they’re faced with a decision on whether or not to save the country from a government shutdown, and then whether or not to save McCarthy’s speakership by convincing the Democrats to join a new coalition. Needless to say, nothing they decide will make them safe in their seats. They’ll either invite a furious right-wing primary challenge or they’ll stick with the majority of their party and remain far outside the range of what their constituents will accept.