House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on Wednesday urged Senate Republicans to have faith in his ability to manage the new House Republican majority next year and not feel compelled to vote for bills because they fear the incoming House majority can’t get legislation passed, according to GOP sources.
McCarthy’s appearance at the Senate GOP lunch came as the upper chamber prepares to vote on a year-end government spending bill that McCarthy and other House Republicans have urged them to punt into the new year.
But GOP senators described McCarthy’s comments more as a plea for Republicans in the Senate and House to work together more closely in the next Congress, when he is aiming to win the Speaker’s gavel.
“It was a unifying message, he talked about how we need to work better together than we have in the past,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told reporters after the meeting.
McCarthy called on Senate Republicans last week not to vote for an omnibus spending package that legislators have negotiated while Democrats still control the House. He accused the Senate of trying to “jam” the House before Christmas.
“They’re trying to jam us right before Christmas. Why would you ever move forward when there’s a change in power in 21 days where Republicans would have a stronger hand?” McCarthy said last week in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity.
And on Tuesday, he endorsed a letter from 13 current and incoming House Republicans calling for any legislative priorities backed by a GOP senator who supports the $1.7 trillion year-end spending bill to be thwarted in the 118th Congress.
McCarthy softened his rhetoric considerably when he spoke to GOP senators in person during a Wednesday meeting.
Republican senators say McCarthy made it clear he does not support the omnibus spending bill that the Senate voted to advance to the floor on Tuesday, but he was careful not to “lecture” senators about why he thinks it’s a bad bill.
“He said he didn’t agree with the omnibus,” one GOP senator who attended the meeting said. “His basic message was: ‘Don’t do things because you think we can’t. Give us a chance.’”
“But in this case, the die is cast,” the lawmaker added, noting that 70 senators voted Tuesday evening voted to advance the 1,455-page bill.
Other sources familiar with the meeting said McCarthy’s comments were not aimed at trying to convince Senate GOP senators to vote against the pending omnibus.
Instead, he made a plea for GOP senators to work with House Republicans next year to curb spending and avoid another scenario in which they feel pressured to vote for a massive year-end spending bill.
McCarthy tackled one of the main arguments that some GOP senators have advanced as a reason to pass the omnibus this week.
Several GOP senators have argued that punting spending decisions into next year will create a legislative pile-up in the House and overwhelm the newly elected GOP majority while it’s trying to organize itself in January and February.
The next Speaker will be operating with a slim five-seat majority, and the fact that McCarthy hasn’t yet nailed down the 218 votes to be elected Speaker is raising doubts about his ability — or anyone’s ability — to get spending bills passed next year while facing divisions within the House GOP conference.
“He was very careful not to lecture us” on the omnibus, said another Senate GOP senator. “He said, ‘you guys shouldn’t take votes thinking we can’t get things done in the House.'”
At the same time, “he acknowledged it’s going to be hard” to run the new House GOP majority with only a five-seat majority, the lawmaker said.
Another person familiar with the meeting said that McCarthy’s basic message to GOP senators was: “Let us do our thing, give us a chance.”
McCarthy was invited by Senate Republican Steering Committee Chairman Mike Lee (R-Utah) to speak to the Senate Republican conference at the Wednesday lunch.
Lee has led the conservative Republican opposition to passing the $1.7 trillion omnibus in the lame-duck session, arguing that the spending bills should be delayed until next year so the incoming House GOP majority can exert its leverage.
Lee also invited Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts, who expressed his opposition to the omnibus, to attend the meeting, according to Senate sources.
The Heritage Foundation’s vice president of government relations last week argued that an “omnibus would lock in the Biden-Schumer-Pelosi agenda,” slamming it for not securing the border or reining in an expansion of the Internal Revenue Service.
Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said McCarthy made a courteous and diplomatic pitch to Senate Republicans to not allow the upper chamber to send another omnibus package to the House right before a government funding deadline.
“It was so soft, it was like falling on a puff-cloud of cotton,” she said. “He did a very nice job of threading that needle, it was kind of impressive.”
McCarthy told senators he’s still working on rounding up the 218 votes to be elected Speaker in January and received positive feedback from senators.
“He was talking about still working on it,” Lummis said, describing McCarthy’s demeanor as confident.
“I get the impression he’s going to get it one. Who knows if it’s going to be on the first ballot. My money is on McCarthy,” she said. “A lot of the people who were making remarks to him were saying, ‘We know you’ll be Speaker.’”
Relations between Senate and House Republicans have become somewhat strained in recent weeks over their diverging strategies on passing a year-end omnibus spending package.
GOP senators weren’t happy that McCarthy bashed the omnibus during his appearance on Hannity’s show.
But Senate and House Republican leaders are getting ready to work more closely next year.
Asked Tuesday whether he supports McCarthy’s bid to become Speaker,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters: “Absolutely, I’m pulling for Kevin.”