A stalemate over the debt ceiling. Help to Ukraine on the chopping block. And impeachment proceedings against Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas — or perhaps even President Joe Biden himself.
With polls showing they have a good chance of securing a majority in the House of Representatives in the Nov. 8 midterm elections, top Republican lawmakers in recent weeks have been giving a taste of what they could do with their resurgent power, and made it clear that they have their sights set on key aspects of the Biden administration’s policies at home and abroad.
Kevin McCarthy, the highest-ranking Republican in the room, signaled in an interview with Punchbowl News this week that if Congress approves an increase in the amount the federal government can borrow — as it is expected to be needed sometime next year — Republicans will return. want an agreement to cut spending.
“You can’t just continue down the path of continuing to spend and increase debt,” said McCarthy, who is likely to be elevated to speaker of the house in a Republican led chamber. “And if people want to create a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time]like everything else, there comes a time when, okay, we’ll give you more money, but you need to change your current behavior.
When asked whether he could demand that Social Security and health care, the two massive federal pension and health care programs that are insolvent, be reformed as part of the debt ceiling negotiations, McCarthy replied that he would not “predetermine” anything.
But California lawmakers warned members of its caucus were beginning to question the money Washington sent to Ukraine to help it fend off the Russian invasion. “Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they’re doing and it can’t be a blank check,” he told Punchbowl.
Then there’s the question of whether Republicans will choose to exercise the House’s impeachment powers—as they did against Bill Clinton in 1998, and as Democrats did to Donald Trump in 2019 and 2021.
The main target appears to be Mayorkas, whom Republicans have pilloried amid a surge in migrants at the United States’ border with Mexico. Yet another target could be Biden himself — as Jim Banks, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, which makes policy for the party, presented on Thursday.
Political realities can hinder McCarthy and his allies’ ability to carry through their plans. High inflation and Biden’s low approval ratings have given them the momentum to retake the House, but their chances of winning a majority in the Senate are seen as a slim shot. Even if they win that chamber, it’s unlikely they’ll have the two-thirds majority needed to convict Biden, Mayorkas, or whoever they want to impeach — or even the numbers to overcome Democratic filibusters of any legislation they try to pass. .
Matt Grossman, director of the Institute of Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, questioned the GOP’s willingness to legislate. The party’s plans, as outlined in the Commitment to America that McCarthy unveiled last month, look meager compared to similar platforms rolled out in 1994 and 2010, when Republicans once again took back the lower house of Congress from Democratic majorities.
“There is a long-standing asymmetry between the parties. Republicans rightly want the government to do less,” he said.
“They are doing quite well electorally without necessarily needing a policy agenda, and they are tied, so to speak, to defending the Trump administration or attacking the Biden administration. There is little need for much policy.”
There are also signs of division within the party over how the GOP should use its new majority. In his interview with Punchbowl, McCarthy said he opposed “impeachment for political purposes” and instead focused on tackling crime, border security and economic issues, all well-known themes for Republicans running this year.
The split was even more pronounced when it came to Ukraine. In a speech to the influential conservative group, former Trump vice president Mike Pence on Wednesday called on the Heritage Foundation for Republicans to continue to support the country.
The day after, Kevin Roberts, president of the foundation, released a statement saying, “Heritage will vigorously oppose Washington’s major backers who try to approve another Ukrainian aid package without debate, a clear strategy, targeted funding and compensation for expenses.”
Democrats will control Congress until the end of the year and have noted the apparent erosion of the will to support Kiev. NBC News reports they could push for another major infusion of military aid into a year-end spending bill designed to keep Ukrainians armed for months to come.
It seems clear that Republicans will eventually unite behind a strategy to forcefully arm the Biden administration for some purpose, but Grossman predicted the likely outcome would be similar to the administration’s shutdown in 2013, when President Barack Obama and the Democrats refused to demand the GOP to dismantle its signature health care law.
“With McCarthy, it just seems like he’s coming along,” he said. “He’s going to be a go-getter and that’s going to be the case with a pretty tough caucus.”