McCarthy Tries to Leverage Biden Impeachment to Avoid a Shutdown
Facing the prospect of a politically damaging government shutdown within weeks, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is offering a new argument to conservatives reluctant to vote to keep funding flowing: A shutdown would make it more difficult for Republicans to pursue an impeachment inquiry against President Biden, or to push forward with investigations of him and his family that could yield evidence for one.
Mr. McCarthy first made the case on Sunday during an interview on Fox News in which he warned that a shutdown would stall the House’s ongoing inquiries into the president and his family. His argument reflected the speaker’s growing desperation to find a way to persuade right-wing Republicans to drop their opposition to a stopgap measure that is needed to keep federal money flowing beyond the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
By tying the issue to the prospect of impeaching Mr. Biden, Mr. McCarthy appears to be hoping that the conservative desire to investigate and possibly charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors — particularly amid the multiple criminal cases against former President Donald J. Trump — might outweigh their resistance to voting in favor of federal spending.
“If we shut down, all the government shuts it down — investigation and everything else,” Mr. McCarthy said about the prospect of funding running out Sept. 30. “It hurts the American public.”
In the interview, he called impeachment a “natural step forward” from the many inquiries Republicans have pursued against the president, but he sidestepped a question about whether he had the votes to do so given the deep divisions among G.O.P. lawmakers about such a course.
Allies of Mr. McCarthy say that continuing the investigations during a shutdown would not only violate laws prohibiting Congress from engaging in unauthorized spending, it would present a politically charged spectacle of the House holding investigatory hearings while thousands of government workers are furloughed and agencies shuttered.
But some of the conservatives Mr. McCarthy would need to cooperate have rejected the speaker’s appeal, saying that Republicans on Capitol Hill could persist with their inquiries even if other parts of the government were closed.
“It’s not as if the investigators won’t be considered necessary or essential personnel,” said Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, who noted that as speaker, Mr. McCarthy would have authority to determine which parts of the House continue to operate. “He is the one who decides how much of the House we shut down.”
Representative Matt Rosendale, Republican of Montana and Mr. Buck’s fellow member of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, also dismissed the idea that the arch-conservative Republicans insisting on deeper reductions in spending would be persuaded to relent by the threat of slowing the inquiries.
“We are not going to be distracted by shiny objects, saying if you don’t get this continuing resolution passed, we won’t be able to pursue the impeachment inquiry,” Mr. Rosendale said in a Monday interview on Fox News. “That’s nonsense.”
Mr. McCarthy’s position and its rejection by some of the most conservative members of the House illustrates the predicament he is in as the spending fight begins in earnest with the return of the House and Senate in September.
Multiple conservatives have indicated they are not willing to entertain even a short-term extension to provide more time to consider the yearlong spending measures without immediate concessions such as deeper spending cuts, eliminating funding for the prosecution of Mr. Trump and rigid border controls.
A few have openly embraced the idea of a shutdown. With only four votes to spare, Mr. McCarthy could turn to Democrats for help in funding the government as he did in raising the debt ceiling in May, but that would be all but certain to create a backlash from his own party. And Democrats will have demands of their own; they already object to many of the policy provisions being pursued by Republicans.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a CNN interview on Tuesday that he had yet to discuss the prospects for a stopgap bill with Mr. McCarthy.
“I do expect that at some point in time, within the next week or so, we’ll begin to intensify those conversations,” he said, adding that keeping the government operating was “our fundamental responsibility.”
Mr. McCarthy and Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and majority leader, have said they agree that a “continuing resolution” maintaining funding will be needed to keep the government open after Sept. 30.
The House has passed just one of its 12 spending bills, and conservatives are threatening to sink some of the others without deeper spending cuts and added provisions such as denying funding for Trump prosecutions. The Senate has not yet put any of its appropriations bills on the floor, though the Appropriations Committee has approved all 12 on a bipartisan basis at higher spending levels than the House, setting up a clash.
Allies of Mr. McCarthy said his warning that the investigations would be halted is based on the federal Anti-Deficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies and employees from spending in advance or in excess of appropriations. Individual staff members can be subjected to penalties if they violate it.
The allies say hearings could be held only in rare cases, no subpoenas could be issued or depositions taken and only workers essential to reopening the government could report to work.
At the same time, congressional officials noted that the federal prosecutions of Mr. Trump could proceed even if the rest of the government was closed since criminal matters have in the past been considered exempt from shutdowns.
In a 2021 memo, the Justice Department said that during a shutdown, “criminal litigation will continue without interruption as an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.” Moreover, special counsel investigations, including the inquiry into Mr. Trump, are funded through a “permanent, indefinite appropriation for independent counsels.”
Carl Hulse is chief Washington correspondent and a veteran of more than three decades of reporting in the capital. More about Carl Hulse
Luke Broadwater covers Congress. He was the lead reporter on a series of investigative articles at The Baltimore Sun that won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award in 2020. More about Luke Broadwater
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