“It’s not about being comfortable with Biden or anyone else. It’s about the House. Kevin’s in shackles. He’s in leg, arms and hand cuffs. And frankly, I don’t think he’s got much capacity to negotiate. And very little capacity to advance a deal,” said Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), a former eight-term House member.
“I’m quite pessimistic about McCarthy. He’s very constrained,” Welch added, before referring to a last-ditch strategy to prevent a default that Biden floated earlier this month. “I think we’re heading toward a decision on the 14th Amendment.”
McCarthy has absolutely no room for error. And the hard-right conservatives who are holding his feet to the fire on negotiations with the White House are not going to like it if he deviates very far from the House-passed menu of budget cuts and debt limit increases.
It will depend on how much Democratic “stink” McCarthy can tolerate — the “stink” being support from moderate Democratic House members who don’t want to see McCarthy removed.
A small group of moderate Democratic lawmakers has quietly reassured its House GOP counterparts that it can help protect McCarthy’s gavel if his right flank revolts over a debt agreement, according to two people familiar with the discussions. If conservatives responded to a McCarthy-Biden deal by forcing a full House vote on ousting the California Republican, Democrats say they have enough members to help block it — keeping him in power.
“We’ll protect him if he does the right thing,” said one of the House Democrats involved in the talks, who requested anonymity because of the ongoing debt negotiations. That Democrat added that McCarthy himself has been briefed on the discussions.
If McCarthy is looking to lose his gavel, this would be the quickest way. Making deals with Democrats is the absolute worst thing that McCarthy could do because he would not only lose the hard right but also far more moderate members who would be pressured into getting rid of the Speaker
“The Speaker has never heard of this garbage, has zero interest in it, and thinks Democrats would be better off focusing on doing the jobs they were elected to do,” McCarthy spokesperson Mark Bednar said in a statement.
Related: The Democrats’ Debt Ceiling Position Makes Zero Sense
It should be noted that the last time Democrats tried this trick was in 2013 when then-Speaker John Boehner resigned rather than make a deal with Democrats to keep his speakership.
However, it’s potential insurance for McCarthy — and a sign of the growing sense of desperation on the Hill — as the White House and congressional leaders race toward a deal to avert an economy-rattling debt crisis in the coming weeks. Those who revealed the conversations on condition of anonymity declined to name who’s leading them, but chatter about the protect-McCarthy idea is growing across the Democratic caucus.
And it’s perhaps loudest in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
Democrats in the Problem Solvers, which has a reputation for attempting to back-channel during high-level talks, are specifically looking to counterbalance the influence of the roughly 40 ultraconservative Republicans in the Freedom Caucus with their own members. The group includes 32 Democrats; not all of them are involved in the talks about backing McCarthy on a so-called “motion to vacate” the speakership, but their numbers are nearly enough to neuter the threat from the right.
The changes made to House rules that allow for a vote to “vacate” the speaker’s chair when just one Republican asks for his ouster means that McCarthy is under constant threat from his right flank to lose his job. McCarthy’s problem is that Joe Biden also has a rabid base to contend with and they are equally adamant that the cuts in spending demanded by Republicans will never happen.
If any kind of deal is struck, the irony will be that both sides will declare that their leader — McCarthy or Biden — “betrayed” them and will be unworthy of support.
As crazy as that sounds, it’s the reality that both McCarthy and Biden have to deal with.