WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s attempts to avoid a government shutdown just became more complicated after former President Donald Trump stepped in to endorse the tactics of far-right House Republicans, who prefer to see a funding lapse than compromise with the Democratic-led Senate and White House.
Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, who backed McCarthy, R-Calif., for speaker, made the comments in a post on his social media platform.
“The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed,” Trump wrote, adding: “UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice,’ and End Election Interference.”
His remarks contradict the views of McCarthy and many other House Republicans, who say a shutdown would be politically self-defeating and do more to hinder conservative goals. They note that shutdowns routinely fail to achieve their stated policy aims. In this case, far-right demands — to defund Trump's prosecutors, add provisions on immigration and cut spending below levels in a two-year budget agreement — have no chance of passing the Senate.
Asked about Trump’s comments Monday, McCarthy responded: “I think we’re much stronger when we stay open. I don’t understand how not paying the troops and not paying our border agents ... what we’re trying to do is secure our border. That would be a part of funding the government, would be securing the border.”
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Trump's remarks could provide cover for McCarthy's right-wing detractors to persist in their demands, despite pressure from other Republican leaders to stave off a shutdown. McCarthy's loyalty to Trump further complicates his position.
“A shutdown would only give strength to the Democrats. It would give the power to Biden,” McCarthy said in an interview last week on Fox News. “It wouldn’t pay our troops. It wouldn’t pay our border agents. More people would be coming across. I actually want to achieve something.”
In the Fox News interview, McCarthy also sought to drive a wedge between Trump and a GOP rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, after DeSantis was first to back the right-wing tactics on spending.
“I served with Ron DeSantis. He’s not at the same level as President Trump by any shape or form,” McCarthy said. “He would not have gotten elected without President Trump’s endorsement.”
But McCarthy has been loath to criticize Trump, viewing his support as critical to maintaining the speakership in the narrow House Republican majority. Even though he lost the 2020 election, Trump commands the loyalty of many GOP voters and is the odds-on favorite to be nominated a third time for president.
Trump's post distorts the history of budget battles. Presidents are rarely blamed for shutdowns, as they are typically incited by demands from the party out of power that controls part of Congress. Surveys showed Republicans took more blame for shutdowns under Barack Obama (for trying and failing to defund Obamacare) and Bill Clinton (for demanding spending cuts before they relented). Trump became an exception after he spurred a 35-day shutdown from December 2018 to January 2019 — the longest in modern history — to demand funding for a border wall. As pressure mounted and Democrats held firm, Trump backed down and agreed to reopen the government without having secured any concessions.
On Monday, after Trump's call, McCarthy maintained he wants to pass a short-term bill and believes the GOP holdouts are prepared to work to resolve differences over a larger funding measure.
“You have to keep the government open. I mean, if people want to close the government — only makes them weaker,” he said. “Why would they want to stop paying the troops or stop paying the border agents or the Coast Guard? I don’t understand how that makes you stronger. I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make.”
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., hopes to pass a short-term bill this week ahead of the deadline of Saturday to avert a shutdown, though some senators may block a speedy vote.
Trump's post didn't mention McCarthy, but he took a swing at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has supported bipartisan efforts in the Senate to fund the government.
“It’s time Republicans learned how to fight!” Trump wrote. “Are you listening Mitch McConnell, the weakest, dumbest, and most conflicted 'Leader' in U.S. Senate history?”