Two lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle on Sunday weighed in on the ongoing disarray in the House of Representatives, after a small group of Republicans last week booted Speaker Kevin McCarthy with Democrats’ help, leaving the chamber leader-less and paralyzing one half of Congress.
Washington is staring down a November deadline to fund the federal government or risk a partial shutdown.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said on ABC’s “This Week” that his party will have to make electing a new speaker a top priority.
Buck was one of the eight Republicans who ousted McCarthy and told “This Week” anchor George Stephanopoulos that their next leader should abide by wherever the conference settles on government spending; after that, Buck will back someone.
“How are you going to get agreement on that before you get agreement on a speaker? Isn’t that what brought McCarthy down?” Stephanopoulos pressed. Buck said no — that it was McCarthy’s inability to deliver on his promises.
Buck also said he wanted the party’s deliberations on a successor to unfold out of the public eye, “where the cameras aren’t on and we don’t have people trying to get attention over certain issues.”
Both House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise are in the running.
Buck said he wanted to avoid the extended and very public conflict that played out in January when it took 15 rounds of voting for McCarthy to win the speakership amid Republican hard-liners’ resistance. Stephanopoulos followed up to ask if Republicans will push for consensus before a speaker election, “That means this could play out for some time, doesn’t it?”
Buck said that was still better if it was done privately: “For those folks that think we are projecting a chaotic image, it makes a lot more sense to do this behind closed doors and get it finished before we go to the floor [for a vote].”
When pressed by Stephanopoulos on the potential consequences if picking McCarthy’s successor takes longer than a few days, Buck said, “We’ll agree on a candidate by the end of the week, or we’ll agree on a candidate over the weekend. I think we lock the doors, and we have very limited bathroom breaks and food breaks and make sure we get the job done.”
“We’re going to be able to have a family discussion. When we leave that family discussion, I believe we’re going to be united,” Buck also said.
Pete Aguilar of California, the No. 3 House Democrat, meanwhile panned Republicans over the fiasco, noting Democrats’ support earlier this year for a debt ceiling increase that was negotiated to also lay out spending levels ahead of the funding debate.
“Democrats are the ones leading here. This is a Republican House Conference who has an inability to govern and to lead, but that’s why we’re in this moment. Our constituents didn’t send us here to vacate the chair,” Aguilar said in his own “This Week” appearance, referencing the procedural mechanism used to oust McCarthy. “They sent us to Washington, D.C., to work.”
Lawmakers have until Nov. 17 to pass funding legislation to prevent a partial government shutdown, which would have rippling consequences for millions of employees and recipients of social services.
But Republicans and Democrats, which each hold a chamber of Congress, are currently at odds over how much to spend. Democrats insist that the GOP should abide by caps agreed to in the debt ceiling deal with the White House earlier this year, while House Republicans argue those numbers are only ceilings and that the spending levels should be lower.
Stephanopoulos asked Buck if this impasse indicated a shutdown was likely. Buck played that down.
“I think what we need to do is we need to come up with a good, responsible number, be able to make an argument for it and then go into the Senate negotiation conference with a compromise in mind. But we have to start where we believe the lowest possible number for discretionary spending is,” he said.
Aguilar, however, accused some conservatives of pining for a government shutdown.
“I think there’s an element within the House Republican Conference that is dead-set on shutting down our government, to walking up to breaching the debt limit or not funding government. There were many of them in the public domain who were cheering for us to shut down the government. That’s just terrible for the country, it’s terrible for our governance and it just shows an inability to lead,” Aguilar said.
Responding to criticism from McCarthy and others that Democrats should have voted against the motion to vacate and kept McCarthy in his role, Aguilar said his party’s job was to support their leaders — not Republicans.
“This is somebody who has an inability to govern and to lead his conference,” he said of McCarthy. He went on to criticize Jordan as “dangerous for democracy” if he wins the gavel. Both Jordan and Scalise voted against certifying Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeat shortly after the Jan. 6 riot.
Buck said he didn’t feel that was “going to be a very big factor at all,” but he argued that certain elements of the party must move past their election denialism.
“That hurts our ability and credibility to move forward with the American people,” he said.
He said he wants the next speaker to unite the party, be elected in one vote and avoid another messy succession. For the moment, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., is serving as interim speaker pro tempore but has said he believes his authority to shepherd legislation is limited.
“We need to unite behind one candidate and stay behind them for the rest of the Congress,” Buck said.
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