There are two important things we know about the dynamics between House and Senate Republicans heading into the New Year. First, House Republicans are, on average, always more partisan and ideologically extreme than their Senate counterparts because of the way the two chambers operate. The House is characterized by party discipline and the Senate is defined by dealmaking, thanks to the leverage given to the minority by the filibuster. Second, Kevin McCarthy is struggling to become the next Speaker on January 3, and because Republicans only have a four-vote majority, he will need the votes of most of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus.
So heading into the January 3 balloting for Speaker (and likely beyond), McCarthy has a lot of incentive to cut clownish capers illustrating his contempt for the RINO squishes of the upper chamber. But the particular gambit with which the Californian has chosen to express this sentiment is pretty far out there and largely unprecedented: He’s threatening to kill any bill sponsored by a Senate Republican who backs the $1.7 trillion omnibus appropriations bill.
On December 19, 13 far-right House Republicans sent a letter to the entire Senate Republican conference pledging to oppose the legislative priorities of any senators who voted for the omnibus bill, which is being hustled through Congress to avoid a Christmas Eve government shutdown. McCarthy quickly endorsed and then intensified the threat:
The very next day, the Senate voted to take up the omnibus bill by a 70-25 margin, with 21 Republicans voting “aye.” It’s a pretty good bet all of them, and perhaps more, will vote for the bill’s final passage today or tomorrow. So according to the solemn vow of the top House Republican, any legislation sponsored by these traitors will die in the House that he will soon run (if he’s not purged in favor of someone even less reasonable). The list of alleged crypto-liberals includes not just Mitch McConnell, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski, but John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Tommy Tuberville, Lindsey Graham, Todd Young, and several other senators who’ve played rounds of golf with Donald Trump and regularly rant and snarl at Democrats. Presumably most if not all of them accept McConnell’s boast that he wrung a lot of important concessions from the White House and congressional Democrats, including a disproportionate bump for defense spending, a prohibition of TikTok use on government phones, and the elimination of a number of progressive wish-list items like a revived child tax credit and protections for banks investing in legal-cannabis enterprises.
It’s anyone’s guess whether this overt senatorial nose-thumbing at McCarthy represented a calculation that his threat was unserious or a realization that in a Congress gridlocked between a Republican House and a Democratic Senate and White House, there aren’t going to be a lot of “legislative priorities” to kill.
Maybe it would make more sense if, instead of launching a virtual civil war against senators from his own party, McCarthy promised to bring the federal government to a complete halt until MAGA bravos control it from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. It’s a more achievable goal, given the House Republican passion for obstruction, than picking off GOP legislative priorities.
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