The U.S. government faces a shutdown Sunday if members of Congress can’t reach a spending agreement. But political infighting and the 2024 presidential election are complicating talks.
Vin Weber, a former Republican U.S. House member from Minnesota, has dealt with similar circumstances in Washington. He spoke with Morning Edition’s Cathy Wurzer.
The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity. Listen to the full interview by clicking the player above.
Some far-right members of the GOP House caucus are threatening to oust House Speaker McCarthy if he works with Democrats to pass a short-term bill to keep the government operating. Given the narrow majority, how should Speaker McCarthy navigate this situation?
I don't think that he knows exactly how to navigate this point. He's basically tried to cobble together a solution that a majority of Republicans would agree to.
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There are about five members on the far right of the caucus that simply will not agree. Some of them are ideologically driven. And to be candid, some of them are driven by a personal animus toward the speaker.
But when you have a four-seat majority, you can't lose hardly anybody. So McCarthy is struggling to find a way forward. If he decides to do a deal with the Democrats, and some of these Republicans decide that they're going to call him and threaten his speakership, that throws the House into some chaos, triggering an election for a replacement speaker which requires a majority of the whole House.
It's hard to say where it would go. McCarthy is probably still in the best position to get the majority. But he went through 15 ballots to get elected speaker for the first time.
You saw former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich take the government into a partial shutdown in a showdown with President Clinton. And that took three weeks to settle that impasse. What were the political lessons learned from that?
It could always be different this time. But all of our experience says that a shutdown benefits the president, for a very simple reason: The president speaks with one voice, he has the bully pulpit, and he can explain it to the country from his point of view, whereas Congress has the House and the Senate and the Republican leaders in the Democrat leaders and factions on the left and right. And they cannot explain their position, in simple terms.
So the president will simply say Republicans in Congress want to shut down the government, and that's a bad thing. And the Republican response will sound like babble because they have a dozen different things that they want.
Everybody can say, “Well, it's going to be different this time.” But everything tells us this will be a loser for the Republicans.
How hard is McCarthy's job at this point? And (Minnesota GOP congressman and House majority whip) Tom Emmer’s job? How secure are both of those individuals’ jobs at this point?
Well, first of all, I know both of them quite well. And I think they are both quite capable. They've got a very difficult job with only a four-seat majority and a far-right faction that wants to burn down the House in order to save it.
McCarthy’s best defense is you can't beat somebody with nobody. There is not an alternative candidate clearly available to Kevin McCarthy. So his position is tenuous, but he does have some assets in that there's nobody really clearly available to challenge.
Tom Emmer is the guy in charge of counting votes and I'm sure he's up to his ears and alligators right now. He's been the one trying to deal directly with the dissident members on the far right to find some position that will bring them over. He is the most unifying figure in the House Republican leadership right now in my judgment.
Do you think McCarthy will survive this?
Yes, I think he does survive it because I think that there is no alternative, but it’s still uncertain.
So what do you make about all of this happening as the House goes down the impeachment investigation path? Does that complicate matters?
To the extent that it inflames partisan passions? Yes. And to the extent that it diverts members from doing the hard work necessary to come up with spending bills that can fund the government? Yes.
I also think that the impeachment inquiry is not helpful to Republicans. I think the country doesn't love Joe Biden, let's be clear about that. His polling is terrible. He's clearly a vulnerable incumbent. But the country doesn't like impeachment. And it doesn't look good in the eyes of the world for us to now regularly try to impeach every president since Clinton.
Listen to the full interview by clicking the player above.