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Government Shutdown Looms as Far Right Lawmakers Battle Kevin McCarthy

There are options to avoid a shutdown — and the Freedom Caucus is standing in the way of all of them, says Ryan Grim.

Congress is almost certainly headed for another government shutdown due to Republican infighting that is preventing budget measures from being passed, says Ryan Grim, the D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept. The revolt is led by far-right members who oppose Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. “What they’re fighting for, whether they win, whether their situation actually gets worse as a result, is secondary to the kind of emotional release people want from seeing a clash unfold in Washington,” says Grim.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn now, Ryan Grim, to Capitol Hill, to the showdown over the potential shutdown of the federal government as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy battles far-right lawmakers, not that he wasn’t considered far-right before, but from within his own party. This is McCarthy speaking to reporters Monday.

SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: The one thing I’ll tell everybody: I’ve never seen anybody win a shutdown. You only put the power in the hands of the administration. If you want to secure the border, pass Homeland. If you want to make America strong and secure, you pass the DOD approps bill. If you’re not willing to pass appropriation bills and you’re not willing to pass a continuing resolution to allow you to pass the rest of the appropriation bills and you don’t want an omnibus, I don’t quite know what you want.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s House Speaker McCarthy sounding not as heated as we heard over the weekend, the F-bombs flying between people like Florida Congressmember Gaetz, who went to the floor and threatened to remove the House speaker. Explain everything that’s taking place. And do you see the showdown happening? It could happen, what, within 11 days.

RYAN GRIM: That’s right. I do see it happening at this point. And it’s hard to really describe kind of how idiotic this whole situation is. And McCarthy did a fairly good job right there, when he was saying at the end, “I don’t know what they want,” because there are only a couple different ways to keep the government open. You know, you can either pass a clean CR, which means the way that the government is funded today is the way that the government will be funded into the future until a certain date. You can pass an amended CR, which is to say, “We’re going to continue funding the government, but we want these particular changes.” And the House Freedom Caucus has put forward a CR like that, that includes a bunch of draconian kind of immigration and wokeness rules that won’t go anywhere in the Senate and won’t go anywhere in the White House. But even that has opposition from within the Freedom Caucus, so they can’t pass that, either. Then you can pass individual appropriations bills, kind of the way that Congress was designed to operate 200-plus years ago when it was built. Every committee passes its funding bill. You pass those bills. Senate passes its bills. The president signs them. Done, the government is funded. They can’t even agree to do a defense bill. That’s supposed to come to the floor today. It might not even pass. They can’t agree, as McCarthy said, to do a homeland security funding bill. There are 10 other agencies and departments that would need to be funded, as well. They can’t do that in the next 11 days. They probably couldn’t do that over the next year, if you gave them that much time.

So those are the three options. And the Freedom Caucus is standing in the way of all three of those options. And so, notice that I haven’t even mentioned Democrats at this point. So, this is fully, completely in the hands of [inaudible] caucus, which is unable to even get its own members to agree on something, which is then going to walk them off the cliff of a government shutdown, in a way that doesn’t even give them a fig leaf to cover the fact that they didn’t do anything. At least with the debt ceiling crisis, if you remember, they passed some completely untenable legislation through the House, so at least they said, “Look, we did our part. We lifted the debt ceiling.” But it came with all these things that obviously Biden’s never going to sign. But at least they put it through the House of Representatives. It looks like this time they might not even be able to do that. And if McCarthy then relies on Democrats to try to get to keep the government open, they’re saying, “Well, then we’re going to throw McCarthy out of the speakership.” Then they have the problem of: Who are they going to replace him with? You know, they have no idea, because they don’t have a majority. They don’t have 218 votes for a new speaker.

So, they don’t like the way things are going. They have no idea what to do instead. And so we’re just going to get — it looks like we’re just going to get a shutdown, until there’s enough pressure on them that they just capitulate again. And it’s ironic —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ryan —

RYAN GRIM: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ryan, what does — these continuing battles of the last several years over government shutdowns, what does this say about the increasing contradictions in the ruling circles in U.S. society that they can’t agree among themselves as to spending bills?

RYAN GRIM: I feel like —and I’m still kind of thinking through this myself; I’m curious for your guys’ take — you know, back when Washington was really the subject of interest group competition — you know, labor, environmentalists, major corporations, grassroots organizations like, say, the NRA — you fought over legislation, and you fought over outcomes, because people were jockeying for actual power. But I think what’s developed now is that you have a lot of the kind of, quote-unquote, “interest groups,” who are interested in Washington, are like, for instance, YouTubers, like Steve Bannon, who has a gigantic podcast called the War Room, which has millions of people who are kind of worked up about what’s going on in the House of Representatives, and what they want to see is a fight. They want to see a show — and Matt Gaetz has said as much — that they don’t necessarily expect Matt Gaetz to win every fight, but they expect him to fight.

And so they want the theater of it. You know, they want to see that they sent somebody to Washington who is fighting for them. What they’re fighting for, whether they win, whether their situation actually gets worse as a result, is secondary to the kind of emotional release that people want from seeing a clash unfold in Washington. You’ve seen some of this on the left, as well, that they just want to see a fight. They just want to know that they’re kind of represented in Washington, even if it’s hopeless, you know, even if they don’t have — they won’t even like put forward an idea of how they’re going to win this showdown. So I feel like that’s sort of what’s reflected in what we’re seeing here, because, otherwise, you can’t make any sense of it from a strategic or tactical sense, if you are thinking about outcomes or substance or results that you want from this.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan, we only have a minute. We last had you on discussing prosecutors indicting President Biden’s son Hunter on felony charges of illegally possessing a handgun and making false statements in order to get the gun in 2018. Well, on Monday, Hunter Biden filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, for allegedly violating his privacy, saying two of its investigators divulged confidential tax information when they testified before Congress. And last week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy opened an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Can you talk about these developments?

RYAN GRIM: It’s an interesting case that Hunter has filed. Now, the whistleblowers, when they initially came forward to Congress, they said that, you know, “As good IRS agents, what we’re revealing does not violate any particular privacy rights of any particular taxpayers,” because the IRS does not only have a legal mandate around that, but they have a cultural one, too, that the people within the IRS are very cautious about revealing private information. But certainly, this tax fight has spilled out into the press.

So it would certainly be ironic if the IRS ended up having to pay Hunter Biden for — you know, and it depends on what jury he gets. Maybe this is also some leverage that his lawyers are trying to get against the attorneys, because there is still the unfolding FARA case, which is the, you know: Was Hunter Biden illegally acting as a foreign agent without disclosing or without registering? That fight is the reason that the entire plea deal broke down in the first place.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, very interesting to see his very powerful lawyer, Abbe Lowell, who also represented Steve Bannon.

RYAN GRIM: And the Kushners.

AMY GOODMAN: And the Kushners. Ryan Grim, we want to thank you so much for being with us, D.C. bureau chief for The Intercept. We’ll link to your piece that you wrote with Murtaza Hussain, headlined “U.S. Helped Pakistan Get IMF Bailout with Secret Arms Deal for Ukraine, Leaked Documents Reveal.” Ryan’s Substack newsletter is Bad News.

Next up, we speak with one of the 149 climate protesters arrested Monday after they shut down the Federal Reserve here in New York, calling for an end to fossil fuel investments. Stay with us.

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