With a government shutdown looming, McCarthy is confronting the same stubborn problem that has driven Republicans before him from the speaker’s job — trying to lead a ruptured GOP majority that’s split between what’s left of the traditional party and a harder-right element largely allied with former President Donald Trump.
Even his decision to launch an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden did little this week to appease the demands of the Freedom Caucus and others as they threaten to shut down the government in pursuit of deep spending cuts or move to a motion to oust him from office.
“I showed frustration in here because I am frustrated with some people in the conference,” McCarthy said after the meeting in the Capitol basement as lawmakers were wrapping up for the week.
“But when we come back, we’re going to get this done. Nobody wins in a government shutdown.”
This may be the toughest moment yet for McCarthy who is trying to survive his first year as House speaker and live to fight another day.
But now, after promises made and possibly dashed, he has barely any days left.
At the moment McCarthy has just nine working days to pass the spending bills needed to fund the government or risk a politically devastating federal shutdown.
An interruption in government services would ripple across the country, almost certain to hurt his party politically as Republicans are blamed for the disruption and disarray.
Biden said in a speech Thursday that McCarthy and House Republicans seem unable to honor the commitments they made as part of a June debt-limit deal and are now seeking deeper cuts. In his remarks, the president did not address the impeachment inquiry nor the indictment Thursday of his son, Hunter, on gun-purchasing charges.
“They’re back at it again, breaking their commitment,” Biden said in Maryland. “Threatening to shut down the government again this month.”
Led by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a core group of McCarthy critics is holding the threat of removal over him unless he meets conservative demands.
A top Trump ally, Gaetz reiterated the conservative flank’s many demands after McCarthy’s meeting — single-subject spending bills, a subpoena for Hunter Biden in the impeachment inquiry and other priorities.
“So instead of emotionally cursing, let’s do this,” Gaetz chided. “We must begin immediately. Pull yourself together, Kevin!”
None of the hard-right opponents of McCarthy rose to speak during the private morning meeting — in fact, few even showed up.
But McCarthy still addressed them directly — and profanely.
“Kevin doesn’t live in fear about this,” said Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla.
McCarthy has prided himself being a survivor, who rose from the ranks over the past nearly 20 years to lead House Republicans.
At the start of the year, he suffered through 14 votes in his reach for the speaker’s gavel before colleagues finally agreed to give it to him on the 15th vote.
Top McCarthy ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene who is also close with Trump recaptured the speaker’s message. “He said, ’If you want to throw in a motion to vacate, that’s fine. I didn’t survive 15 rounds for nothing and I’ll survive another 15 rounds.”
That said, there still is no viable plan or having the House pass the bills needed to run the government by Sept. 30, when current funding runs out, risking the shutdown.
Freedom Caucus conservatives are demanding cuts lower than what McCarthy agreed to in a budget deal with Biden earlier this year —- and even lower than the speaker promised he would fight for when he agreed to their demands during his election to become speaker.
It’s not just Trump influencing House Republicans from the campaign trail. Republican rival Ron DeSantis has also connected with conservatives “and is supportive of us trying to fight to get change up here,” said Freedom Caucus member Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said, “House Republicans have made clear that they are determined to shut down the government and try to jam their extreme right-wing ideology down the throats of Americans.”
Jeffries said he had not talked to McCarthy this week about a solution, but he has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and they have agreed “the only way forward is a bipartisan path that funds the government at the current fiscal year levels.”
The Senate meanwhile, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats, pushed ahead with a rare and overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, 91-7, to advance a package of spending bills toward final passage — until it was stalled by Senate conservatives.
“And now all of a sudden, you have a group, a small group in the Senate, trying to mimic the Freedom Caucus in the House,” Schumer said, calling on Republican leaders to intervene “for the good of the country.”
McCarthy told the lawmakers to go home for the weekend — they are not in session Friday for the Jewish holiday — and be prepared to stay in session next week until they get the job done.
“I don’t walk away from a battle,” the speaker said, preparing to return to fight another day.
Asked if he had a plan for the week ahead, McCarthy said later: “I always have a plan. Doesn’t mean it happens.”
“I had a plan for this week, didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned,” he said.
Exasperated, McCarthy had already showed signs of strain the night before.
As he left the Capitol, his voice hoarse and his dry-cleaning bags of fresh shirts in hand, McCarthy scoffed when asked about the conservatives’ latest demands for spending cuts.
“Welcome to my world,” McCarthy said, as the grand Memorial Door slammed behind him.
__ Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Stephen Groves, Josh Boak and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.