Any hope among Democratic moderates to extract concessions from McCarthy has run into a major problem, though: He can’t afford any capitulating to Democrats. While centrists had speculated about what they could get from the speaker, McCarthy and his allies have indicated that their final offer is, essentially, nothing.
Nothing except — maybe — a temporary reprieve from the churn of crisis that’s defined the House’s McCarthy era so far.
“I think that there are a number of people that care about the institution and very much see through what this is,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a loyal McCarthy ally, when asked about support from across the aisle. “I fully expect that you would have Republicans and Democrats simply do what’s right.”
But that’s simply not enough for Democrats. By relying on them to avoid a government shutdown, McCarthy has somewhat ironically eliminated their single biggest reason to help him avoid a knifing on the floor.
There’s an even simpler reason that the party’s most vulnerable Democrats don’t feel compelled to help: McCarthy, as the party’s biggest fundraiser, is also their biggest political foe.
“It’s clear he has placed his speakership exclusively in the hands of his conference — which is unfortunate for the country, for he could have ascended from speaker of the majority to a true speaker of the House,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), one of the centrists who would have been willing to bail out the speaker under different circumstances.
What’s more, centrist Democrats are loyal to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who spoke with McCarthy on Monday night as the speaker ejection vote drew closer. The New York Democrat has urged his caucus to keep their McCarthy plans under wraps ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s vote; the Democratic leadership team reached out to some centrists on Monday to make that request, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), for instance, had suggested he might throw McCarthy a lifeline by voting “present” after the speaker pushed through a bipartisan spending bill on Saturday. But by Monday evening, Cartwright said in a brief interview: “I’m undecided at this point. It’ll be interesting.”
Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), a leader in the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, said in a Tuesday statement that McCarthy is “not the leader I would choose — he doesn’t have the pulse of the people of Maine’s Second District. Absent any significantly meaningful benefit for Maine’s Second District, I see no reason to vote for him.”
Democrats aren’t expected to formally whip Tuesday’s vote on McCarthy’s future while they wait to see how the ouster vote plays out procedurally, according to people who attended the morning’s caucus meeting.
The push for Democratic cohesion strengthened further during Tuesday’s roughly 90-minute caucus meeting, hours before McCarthy planned to force the House to issue its verdict on his rule. Democratic leaders were so intent on keeping their deliberations secret that members’ cell phones were kept out of the room.
Lawmakers who attended, though, described it as a show of unity for Jeffries and the party.
“He got himself into this mess,” Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), a leader in the centrist New Democrat Coalition, said hours before Tuesday’s vote. “It’s going to be up to McCarthy to get himself out.”
Daniella Diaz contributed to this report.