Opinion: Echoes of Gingrich as McCarthy tries to survive

There might not be anyone in Washington right now with a shorter leash than U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Facing an Oct. 1 government shutdown deadline, McCarthy was desperately trying this week to plot a course to keep his GOP flock together — and undercut any GOP rebellion against him.

Step one was ordering three U.S. House committees to further investigate President Biden and his son Hunter.

“Congress has a duty to investigate abuses of power,” said U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, who said “an impeachment inquiry is the logical, constitutionally required next step,” when it comes to investigating the Bidens.

While that move won the Speaker some breathing room with conservatives, McCarthy was still hearing threats about his own future, as Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., demanded action on a series of issues — or else.

“Do these things or face a motion to vacate the chair,” Gaetz said, vowing to force repeated votes to boot out McCarthy, if necessary.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus also warned McCarthy not to work with Democrats to pass a temporary funding plan to keep the government running on Oct. 1.

“It would endanger the Republican majority and endanger Speaker McCarthy’s leadership,” said Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, who vowed to vote against any stopgap funding unless it included major policy changes on immigration.

In one way, these threats remind me of the GOP efforts to force out Georgia’s Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker of the House, except most of that plotting took place behind the scenes, not in public.

But there is another parallel to draw between Gingrich and McCarthy — which is a red flag for Republicans.

In 1995, many in Gingrich’s orbit thought a government shutdown fight was an opportunity to win a major legislative victory over a Democrat in the White House.

It’s basically the same thing today.

But while Gingrich had the help of a GOP Senate, McCarthy is by himself. Without compromise, nothing will get done. And Republican Senators are clearly not interested in a shutdown showdown.

“I’m not a government shutdown guy,” said Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Everyone knows the road to major legislative accomplishments in Congress is paved by winning elections — not by government shutdowns. Just look at the successes of Democrats in 2021-22.

The GOP-led shutdowns of 1995-96, 2013, and 2018-19 held little likelihood of victory for Republicans, and 2023 seems no different.

But Speaker McCarthy may be forced to walk the plank on a government shutdown — by some of his own GOP members.

And no matter what he does, there’s no guarantee McCarthy survives as Speaker of the House.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com