Can Congress Keep It Together?

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #95 | By: William Bourque | September 22, 2023
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Speaker Kevin McCarthy is on the brink of losing the speakership.  Reports from the GOP conference have indicated a fractured party with no end in sight. Infamous and outspoken Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz made a public nod to McCarthy, calling him a “sad and pathetic man” on MSNBC.  Individuals within the GOP tell US Renew News that McCarthy is in such fear that he will be removed as Speaker that he often jokes with staff to not get too comfortable in their Chamber-side office.  Capitol Hill reporters found a copy of a motion to vacate the speakership—all it was missing was a signature from Gaetz. Sources in the GOP conference say that Gaetz and McCarthy have had to be separated after shouting matches during meetings, oftentimes causing Gaetz to storm out of the room altogether.

Fellow Freedom Caucus members Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor-Greene have also been vocally against McCarthy, but neither have pulled the trigger on making a motion yet.  Many rank-and-file members seem fed up with the Freedom caucus and their demands and it wouldn’t be a shock to see a more vocal push against these outspoken members as debt ceiling talks ramp up. Sources say that the debt ceiling fight will keep the House in session through the weekend, signaling how eager McCarthy is to broker a deal.

A budget deal hinges on a number of factors, mainly whether or not McCarthy can keep everyone in line long enough to get the votes.  With a razor-thin majority, McCarthy needs almost every GOP member to vote with him, and it’s seeming less likely by the hour.  A deal will include many of the items agreed upon by McCarthy and President Biden in June, which includes limited spending on social programs and the war in Ukraine. The most likely deal at this stage is called a continuing resolution, which funds the government at the previous level for an agreed-upon amount of time. If a deal isn’t brokered, the government will shut down at the end of the month. A House GOP deal will likely be defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate, so this will be a space to watch.

On the Senate side, the GOP is backing 81-year-old Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to serve the rest of his term, despite several high-profile freezes in front of reporters.  Republicans say that McConnell is still fit to serve, as per Capitol Physician Brian Monahan. Monahan attributed the freezes to continued concussion recovery, and per Axios, says that “occasional lightheadedness is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be expected as a result of dehydration.” Democrats have been largely supportive of McConnell, albeit expressing more concern than McConnell’s GOP colleagues.  When informed of McConnell’s second freeze at a press conference, President Biden called McConnell a “dear friend” and said that he hoped all was well.

In other Senate news, Republicans are fuming after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tweaked the dress code to allow Senator Fetterman onto the floor in his favored attire, a hoodie and gym shorts.  Senator Susan Collins said mockingly that she might show up in a bikini, while Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas called it “A sad day for the Senate.”  While the Senate never had an official rule on the books, the Sergeant-at-arms often reprimanded members for not wearing a tie.  Senate staff will still be held to a stricter dress code, being asked to wear formal clothing whenever they enter the floor.  Most Senators wear business casual clothing on Monday’s and Friday’s when they are departing for or returning from their home states.

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