The pressure on Congress is starting to pin the needle on 10

It seems Congress has something new and critical to deal with every week. However it deals with the budget, with the need to authorize a few agencies like the Defense Department, or with the White House request for military foreign aid, it needs both chambers to be functioning. For the latest, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller

Interview Transcript: 

Tom Temin Mitchell, the only thing I can think of with these votes happening for Jim Jordan is the old Paul Simon song. The nearer your destination, the more you keep slip sliding away.

Mitchell Miller Yes. And unfortunately for Jim Jordan, he keeps slip sliding away. And it’s really just an unprecedented situation you have here where you have a political party unable to choose its own leader. There’s just no one within the Republican Party right now that can get 217 votes. And it’s just brought paralysis to the U.S. House of Representatives. And, of course, that means implications for all kinds of things across government. And right now, there are a lot of people really, really worried about the institution.

Tom Temin There must be some emergency way if they, for example, wanted to take up legislation that the president requested last week, which is more than $100 billion in continued foreign military aid. There’s got to be a way with the temporary Speaker or pro tempore Speaker. Can they vote on that if they have to?

Mitchell Miller Well, it’s really interesting that you ask that because this was a big part of the argument this past week and it continues to be one. And basically the situation is that a lot of people have said why can’t you make House Speaker Pro-Tempore Patrick McHenry, who was brought in after the ouster of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, kind of an ally of McCarthy, brought in and essentially was a caretaker. A lot of people thought gavels in the house and then of course, gavels it into recess. But many people, including Kevin McCarthy himself, have said that after 911, that there really was no need to pass specific legislation to give some powers to this pro tempore. But there are sharp disagreements, even among scholars and parliamentarians, about that point of view. Some people say that it might even be unconstitutional to give the pro tem more power. Now, interestingly, Patrick McHenry himself is an institutionalist. And even though there were a lot of people last week that wanted him to become this caretaker speaker, he himself has been really reticent to move into that mode. But a lot of people say, look, if the Republican Party can’t agree on anyone, surely we must, as you point out, do something so that some legislation or some emergency action can be taken. So there’s a real back and forth over this. And this was actually what caused a revolt last week against Jim Jordan. And he was ready to do this. He was ready to allow this to happen. But a lot of the hard liners within the Republican Party said absolutely not. They were viscerally opposed to this. They thought it was basically a variety of things. Some of them thought it was giving over power to the Democrats in some way by making a compromise government. Others had these legal arguments. So it’s a very, very interesting thing. Even though it might seem arcane on the surface, it’s something that goes right to the core of what the house can or cannot do.

Tom Temin And have you noticed or witnessed or maybe monitored any international reaction to this? Because it must make us look like a little bit of a laughing stock, I think, in some places.

Mitchell Miller You know, it’s really interesting. There is a large amount of people around the world looking at this. In fact, it was reported last week that even during President Biden’s visit, short as it was to Israel, he was asked about this by Israeli officials. They said, what is going on with this part of your U.S. government? So they are very, very aware of what’s happening. And it’s really a sore point for many of the Republicans that work on committees such as foreign Affairs, like the chair, Michael McCaul and Intelligence. A lot of these people have said very openly that they think that this is making the U.S. look like a laughingstock to the rest of the world. You know, as Michael McCaul said, the world is burning literally, and we are not doing anything about it. You’ve had weeks without a House speaker, even as these major crises have been unfolding, obviously Israel and Hamas and earlier Ukraine. But that is still going on now. And they just really are pulling their hair out. Frankly, there’s been a lot of tension within the Republican conference, probably more so than ever before. These closed door meetings, they call them family meetings. Boy, this is a dysfunctional family right now.

Tom Temin Yes, the whips are out. We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller. He’s Capitol Hill correspondent for WTOP. And besides the world burning, the government itself is inching ever closer. It’s like the tied up damsel going down the proverbial sawmill. The blade gets closer and closer to the federal shutdown date of November 17th and the National Defense Authorization Act.

Mitchell Miller Right. Which is usually a no brainer. Everybody thought that that was going to pass very quickly. And now that is stuck. So you have all these issues related to the military, not to mention the fact that we do have this international crisis going on and then that big buzz saw is just getting closer and closer. It’s hard to believe. That it’s actually within weeks now that that November 17th government shutdown deadline is approaching. And it seemed like such a long time ago when they finally got through it. But ironically, it was the agreement between Democrats and Republicans to compromise on that that kicked essentially Kevin McCarthy out of the post of House Speaker. And now you’ve had really what is chaos and a crisis in the U.S. House of Representatives, because there is absolutely no legislation that can move forward. Of course, a lot of House Republicans were talking about they were going to take up all these individual appropriations bills over the last few weeks. Well, obviously, those weeks are totally gone now. They are lost. There’s no more time for that. And then there’s just the question of what’s going to happen as we get closer to the deadline. Are we still going to be in this limbo? Are we going to know who is actually the titular head of the Republican Party in the U.S. House? And that has obviously a lot of implications for what’s going to happen with the shutdown. I think there is a resignation among many lawmakers, at least right now, that a shutdown may be coming.

Tom Temin All right. And you also spoke to Virginia Senator Tim Kaine getting back to the White House aid package. What are some of the Senate Democrat majority parties thinking about that?

Mitchell Miller Well, the Democrats and the Senate in general have just tried to keep their head down and keep working. And so they are pushing ahead with a variety of things in connection with aid to Israel. And then Senator Kaine, I asked him about this huge supplemental request that’s coming out from the White House, over $100 billion, which of course, includes billions of dollars for Israel, as well as Ukraine, as well as the southern border, which has been a big push by the Republicans. He does believe that eventually some form of that supplemental will get through Congress. Now, obviously, he’s well aware of what’s happening on the other side of the Capitol, but he says that basically it’s the Senate that has to take the ball here and really make sure that it starts moving on this and getting it through Congress. And so Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday again reiterated that point and said that the Senate is going to keep pushing ahead, trying to at least get things in place so that at some point, whenever the House gets its act together, that this can actually be passed now. That certainly doesn’t mean that it’s going to roll right through. As we’ve talked about before, there are many House Republicans who have a lot of reservations about more aid to Ukraine, and they don’t like the idea of Ukraine and Israel aid being tied together. But we’ll have to see what happens there, because right now we just have a power vacuum here in the U.S. House.

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