Discover more from Letters from an American
September 27, 2023
Exactly a week ago, Jake Sherman of Punchbowl News reported that Republican House leaders were talking about moving the government funding debate away from spending levels—their original complaint—to border security. “[T]he vast majority of House R[epublican]s,” Sherman wrote, “would rather fight on border policy than spending.”
True to form, party leaders today began to insist that we are barreling toward a shutdown because of President Joe Biden’s policies on the southern border. House speaker Kevin McCarthy says he wants to meet with Biden to “cut a deal.”
But, of course, McCarthy already cut a deal with Biden, back in May, that provided a clear roadmap for this year’s funding. McCarthy is refusing to honor that deal.
The Republicans’ willingness to invent a new reason for their threatened government shutdown suggests it was never about principle so much as about power. They are quite aware that the cuts the extremists are proposing before they will agree to fund the government are unpopular, so they have manufactured another reason for the shutdown that they hope will be more palatable to the country.
At any point, McCarthy could agree to work with the Democrats to pass the 12 appropriations bills that will fund the government. Last night, by a vote of 77–19, the Senate illustrated how that could be done by passing a bipartisan continuing resolution to fund the government through November 17 and to provide additional funding for Ukraine.
Today, McCarthy told Republican House members that he would not bring the Senate’s measure up for a vote. Instead, he will continue to court the extremists, who spent the day posturing. At the motion of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), for example, they voted to reduce Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s salary to $1 a year. They went on to pass a number of similarly extreme measures that will never make it through the Senate.
House minority leader Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) accused Republicans of using the threat of a shutdown “to jam your right-wing ideology down the throats of the American people.” The bills they were advancing, he said, had “zero chance of becoming law…. And they’re filled with extreme policy poison pills.”
For all that McCarthy is trying to pin the blame for a shutdown on the Democrats, it is the House Republicans who are refusing to perform the most basic of government procedures: fund the government for the next year. When Republicans have shut down the government in the past, the American people blamed them for it, and today Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called out his House colleagues, clearly trying to isolate them, likely hoping to keep them from tainting the whole party in the eyes of voters before the 2024 election.
McConnell called out his colleagues on their new switch to complain about border security: “A vote against a standard short-term funding measure is a vote against paying over $1 billion in salary for Border Patrol and ICE agents working to track down lethal fentanyl and tame our open borders. Shutting down the government isn’t an effective way to make a point,” he said.
The 2024 election was also on former president Trump’s mind today. He was in Michigan tonight to try to draw attention away from the Republican primary debate that he refused to attend. But while President Biden yesterday visited the United Auto Workers picket line, Trump visited a non-union shop and talked about a future “fueled by American energy” and “built by highly skilled American hands and high-wage American labor.” As Craig Mauger of the Detroit News noted, however, “his address was short on specifics for how he would accomplish the goals.”
Trump told the crowd to get the UAW to support him, but the UAW doesn’t represent the workforce where he was speaking. Mauger noted that one woman holding a “union members for Trump” sign acknowledged she wasn’t a union member, while a man with a sign that said “auto workers for Trump” said he wasn’t an autoworker. The plant where Trump was speaking employs about 150 people, but 400–500 Trump supporters were there for his speech.
Yesterday, UAW president Shawn Fain said, “I find it odd he’s going to go to a non-union business to talk to union workers. I don’t think he gets it.”