GOP sources say that on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) told Senate Republicans to have faith in his ability to lead the new House Republican majority next year and not feel like they have to vote for bills because they think the new House majority won’t be able to get them passed.
McCarthy went to the Senate GOP lunch as the upper chamber was getting ready to vote on a bill to spend money on the government at the end of the year. McCarthy and other House Republicans had asked the Senate to stop the vote until the new year.
But GOP senators said McCarthy’s comments were more of a plea for Republicans in the Senate and House to work together more closely in the next Congress when he is trying to win the Speaker’s gavel. After the meeting, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told reporters, “It was a unifying message. He talked about how we need to work together better than we have in the past.”
McCarthy told Senate Republicans last week that they shouldn’t vote for an omnibus spending bill that lawmakers have been working on while Democrats still run the House. He said the Senate was trying to stop the House from doing its work before Christmas.
“They’re trying to get in our way right before Christmas. Why would you move forward when in 21 days, the Republicans will be in charge and have a stronger hand?” McCarthy told Fox News host Sean Hannity last week during an interview.
And on Tuesday, he backed a letter from 13 current and incoming House Republicans that said any legislative priorities backed by a GOP senator who supports the $1.7 trillion year-end spending bill should be stopped in the 118th Congress. McCarthy’s words were much less harsh when he met with Republican senators on Wednesday.
Republican senators say McCarthy made it clear that he does not support the omnibus spending bill that the Senate voted to send to the floor on Tuesday. Still, he was careful not to “lecture” senators about why he thought it was a bad bill.
One GOP senator at the meeting said, “He didn’t agree with the omnibus.” “His main point was, ‘Don’t tell us we can’t do something just because you think we can’t. Give us a try.'” “But in this case, it’s too late,” said the lawmaker, pointing out that 70 senators voted Tuesday night to move the 1,455-page bill forward. Other people at the meeting said McCarthy’s comments were not meant to get GOP senators to vote against the omnibus bill.
Instead, he asked GOP senators to work with GOP House members next year to cut spending and avoid being forced to vote for another big spending bill at the end of the year. McCarthy took on one of the main reasons that GOP senators have given for passing the omnibus bill this week.
Several Republicans in the Senate have said that putting off spending decisions until next year will cause a backlog of bills in the House and make it hard for the newly elected Republican majority to get organized in January and February.
The next Speaker will only have a five-seat majority, and the fact that McCarthy hasn’t yet won the 218 votes he needs to become Speaker raises questions about whether he or anyone else will be able to get spending bills passed next year when the House GOP conference is split.
Another Republican senator in the Senate said, “He was cautious not to lecture us about the omnibus.” He told them, “You shouldn’t vote if you think the House can’t get things done.” At the same time, the lawmaker said, “he acknowledged it will be hard” to run the new House GOP majority with only five seats.
Another person at the meeting said that McCarthy’s main message to GOP senators was, “Let us do our thing; give us a chance.” Mike Lee (R-Utah), in charge of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, asked McCarthy to talk to the Senate Republican conference at lunch on Wednesday.
Lee has been the leader of conservative Republicans against passing the $1.7 trillion omnibus in the lame-duck session. They say the spending bills should be put off until next year so the incoming House GOP majority can use its power. Senate sources say that Lee also invited Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, who said he was against the omnibus, to attend the meeting.
The vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation said last week that an “omnibus would lock in the Biden-Schumer-Pelosi agenda.” He criticized it for not securing the border or stopping the IRS from growing. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming) said McCarthy asked Senate Republicans politely and diplomatically not to send another omnibus package to the House right before a funding deadline.
She said, “It was so soft that it felt like I was falling on a puff cloud of cotton.” “He did a great job threading that needle; it was pretty cool,” McCarthy told senators that he is still trying to get the 218 votes he needs to be elected Speaker in January. Senators liked what they heard and told him so.
Lummis said that McCarthy seemed sure of himself because he said that he was still working on it. “I have the feeling that he’s going to get it. No one knows if it’ll be on the first ballot or not. She said, “I’m betting on McCarthy.” “Many of the people who talked to him told him, ‘We know you’ll be Speaker,'”
Relationships between Senate and House Republicans have gotten a little tense in recent weeks because they have different plans for passing an omnibus spending bill before the end of the year. When McCarthy went on Hannity’s show and said terrible things about the omnibus, GOP senators were unhappy.
But Republicans in charge of the Senate and the House are getting ready to work together more closely next year. When reporters asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday if he backs McCarthy’s bid to become Speaker, he said, “Absolutely, I’m pulling for Kevin.”
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