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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)

McCarthy catches a break as opponents circle

Even as the speculation over his future intensifies, Speaker Kevin McCarthy got a slight reprieve on Thursday night. Whether that good vibe will last through today, with a House GOP-caused government shutdown less than 48 hours away, remains to be seen.

After battling among themselves for weeks, House Republicans passed three GOP-drafted FY2024 spending bills covering key parts of the federal government — Defense, Homeland Security and State-Foreign Operations. A fourth spending bill, Agriculture, went down in a widely expected defeat.

Two Democrats — Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Wash.) — crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans on two of the spending bills, Defense and Homeland Security.

Overall, House Republicans have now passed four FY2024 spending bills — the three from last night plus the MilCon-VA bill in July.

McCarthy hailed the House vote as proof that his “regular order” approach — demanded by the right wing in the House GOP Conference — is working, even as the government is about to shut down.

McCarthy has a news conference today at 10 a.m. He’ll say on repeat that House Republicans have passed four spending bills and the Senate none. Not sure that matters with the government about to shut down and the Senate moving a stopgap funding measure, but alas.

The wins on the floor — a product of weeks of lobbying, cajoling, and some embarrassing public setbacks — also capped another bizarre day for the speaker.

McCarthy kicked off Thursday by clashing with his most vocal GOP critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), in front of a room full of House Republicans. And he ended it 12 hours later with celebrations by GOP lawmakers on the floor as if they’d just won a bowl game.

Yet none of this will really make a difference. The House GOP version of these annual spending bills include tens of billions of dollars in spending cuts that aren’t acceptable to the Senate nor President Joe Biden.

They’re also full of “culture war” provisions sought by hardline Republican conservatives that are opposed by the Senate and White House.

OK, so what happens next?

The House will vote today on the Republicans’ short-term CR proposal. The Rules Committee will meet at 8 a.m. to mark up the rule for that bill.

This House stopgap funding bill, drafted by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), would keep federal agencies open for only 30 days — less than the 47 days the Senate is considering.

Rules Committee Republicans will amend it to mandate spending at a $1.47 trillion annual clip, far lower than what the Senate or White House will sign off on, while protecting the Pentagon, Homeland Security and VA from any cuts. That means social programs get mauled.

It also includes big chunks of H.R. 2, a tough border security bill that’s been rejected by Democrats as a non-starter. A McCarthy-favored fiscal commission will be added, too.

The House GOP leadership is skeptical that they can pass this rule, due to conservative opposition, which would be a massive blow to McCarthy. If the GOP leadership is unable to even force a floor vote on its own stopgap proposal — with no Ukraine money and strong border control provisions — they’ll have no leverage against the Senate, which is moving a bipartisan CR.

Obviously, McCarthy is planning to keep the House in session over the weekend as the funding deadline nears.

But let’s be clear here  The federal government is going to shut down. We don’t see any way around it. The only questions are for how long, and how will it end?

McCarthy will likely immediately try to jump-start negotiations with the other Big Four leaders and the White House. But the speaker is on an island here. McCarthy’s House Republican Conference will have single-handedly caused this shutdown. The California Republican is going to have to figure out how to pass something to get out of it.

House Republicans also plan to bring up other spending bills next week, after the shutdown has started. Energy and Water and the Interior bills are on the list.

Meanwhile, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Marianna Sotomayor of the Washington Post reported last night that conservatives will try to push McCarthy out of the speakership next week. Gaetz could offer a motion to vacate as early as Sunday. House Majority Whip Tom Emmer was floated as a McCarthy successor. Emmer says he doesn’t want the job.

Olivia Beavers and Jordain Carney of Politico report that conservatives are searching for a possible McCarthy replacement but no clear alternative has emerged. Juliegrace Brufke of Axios has her own version of the “Conservatives seeking McCarthy replacement” story, too.

Three makes a definite trend. It’s clear McCarthy’s conservative detractors are trying to shift the debate from “Should we oust McCarthy?” to “Who can take over the job?”

But if history is a guide, these situations are far more unpredictable than the plotters realize. Just look at 1998 or 2015 for proof of that.

We see an effort to boot McCarthy as a distinct possibility — either next week or shortly thereafter. The shutdown will determine whether this happens and when. And remember: Democrats have a big role here. They can vote to table a motion to vacate, which would sideline the process.

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.