BOSTON - "Kevin McCarthy has a problem," says Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck, in what might be the understatement of the year so far.
After the new speaker cut a spending deal with the Democrats to avert a debt-ceiling crisis last spring, government funding is now being held hostage by a handful of House Republicans who believe McCarthy gave away too much. And if they don't back down by Saturday at midnight,.
"No Republican and no Democrat wants to see government shut down," says Buck, who is one of the recalcitrant members. Fact check: not true. The party's de facto leader, Donald Trump, went online this weekend to urge Republicans: "Unless you get everything, shut it down!"
Predictably, the White House is pouncing. Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calls it "a Republican problem." And President Biden, pointing to the wide range of potential fallout from national parks being closed to military members going unpaid, says, "They don't want to live up to that deal, and everyone in America could be faced with paying the price for that."
What do you do when your defense is sputtering? Go harder on offense.
"I've watched this president fail time and again," said McCarthy this morning as he prepared for another round of funding votes tonight.
Yesterday, he was criticizing the dissidents: "Why would they want to stop paying the troops or stop paying the border agents with the Coast Guard? I don't understand how that makes you stronger. I don't understand what point you're trying to make."
Today, he was pretending it's really all the Senate's fault: "The Senate has not passed one appropriation bill. I don't know how many in the press stand and ask [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer what he's going to do. The House has continued to do their job."
Sure. But history shows us the only way for the party shutting down the government to avoid taking the blame is to avoid the actual shutdown.
In 2019, when then-President Trump presided over the longest shutdown in history, he was holding his own in the polls until the shutdown began, when the numbers cratered. Given how nervous many voters already are about the economy, McCarthy's burst of bravado belongs in the category of whistling past the graveyard.
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