McCarthy tossed in the cauldron – Politico

The intense jockeying over the future leadership of House Republicans collided headlong Thursday with an earlier-than-expected November deadline to raise the debt ceiling — a volatile mix that will be on Speaker John Boehner and the candidates vying to lead the GOP conference to defuse.

Over the next 13 weeks, Congress will need to figure out how to increase the nation’s borrowing limit, prevent a government shutdown, and keep money flowing to highway projects. Any one of those issues would an enormous lift; now all three will fall on a House Republican Conference in flux, with a new speaker, majority leader and majority whip expected to be elected next week but not take over until November.

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Most GOP lawmakers and leadership aides don’t know how it will all get done.

Should Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) ascend to the speakership, which looks more likely by the day, he’ll have to decide whether to spend valuable — and limited — political capital in the first few days of his speakership on a treacherous debt limit vote, or to leave it to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to jam it through in the waning days of his reign. He leaves at the end of the month.

The debt limit must be lifted by Nov. 5, according to a letter Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent to Capitol Hill late Thursday. Republicans had been expecting the warning for several days, but Lew’s announcement immediately presented a big challenge for McCarthy.

Some aides wonder if Boehner will push a debt ceiling increase across the floor and then immediately resign, handing McCarthy the speakership before Nov. 1.

After that showdown, Republicans will need to turn on a dime to keep the government open. They’ll have only a dozen days in session after the debt limit deadline to pass another government spending bill. The latest funding bill, which most House Republicans opposed, expires on Dec. 11.

House GOP leadership have almost nothing to say about these developments, mainly because they are still processing the complicated political maneuvering that will be required.

Boehner said last weekend he wants to “clean the barn up” before he leaves. Yet if he turns to Democrats to push through too many controversial measures — including raising the debt ceiling — he could provoke a conservative backlash against McCarthy.

“We’ve received the secretary’s letter and will continue to review the issue,” Emily Schillinger, a spokeswoman for Boehner, said in response to Lew’s announcement.

McCarthy also faced some unwelcome news Thursday on the Export-Import Bank, which is widely despised on the far right but has strong support from the business wing of the party. Republican backers of the bank say they have enough Republican support, when coupled with Democratic backing, to force a floor vote on reviving the bank no matter what GOP leadership does, a blow to hardline opponents of bank.

Democrats pounced on the debt limit issue, saying that Republicans “cannot jeapordize the full faith and credit of the United States” in delaying an increase to the $18 trillion-dollar plus debt limit. It’s refrain Democrats will repeat many times over the next five weeks.

“The Treasury Secretary’s letter is a stark warning of the stakes of Republicans’ ‘Calendar of Chaos,'” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement, employing her favorite new slogan on the legislative problems facing Republicans. “Failure to protect the full faith and credit of the United States would have a devastating impact on hard-working families across the country – including tumbling retirement savings and rising interest rates for student loans, mortgages, credit cards and car payments.”

Meanwhile, an all-consuming leadership election that’s splitting the party is in full swing. Candidates for the top four House leadership posts are busy wrangling votes and making promises they hardly know they’ll be able to keep.

McCarthy will have to have to maneuver around the numerous legislative land mines if he wins, as expected. Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, the most serious potential threat to McCarthy, appear poised to vote for him, as most of them privately concede he cannot be stopped.

These same conservatives, however, have quietly been searching for an alternative to Reps. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Tom Price (R-Ga.) for majority leader. They’ve been unsuccessful in finding one thus far. Scalise and Price, who have been frantically trying to line up support over the last several days, are locked in a tight batte to replace McCarhy in the No. 2 post if he moves up.

Meanwhile, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) appears to have orchestrated the most uneventful leadership race, quickly wrapping up his vote counting for the whip job as other candidates were still mulling entering the race.

McHenry’s allies believe he has enough votes to take the No. 3 slot in GOP leadership, where he’d be charged with wrangling support for the party’s agenda. But Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the House Rules Committee chairman, was able to secure the entire Texas delegation’s support, besides Rep. Kay Granger, who endorsed McHenry. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) is also running for the post.


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