(CNN) — In February, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made a bold prediction about the GOP and the debt ceiling: “We don’t think they have a plan that can pass with Republican votes in the House,” he said.
He later insisted that the White House would not negotiate with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for an increase in the debt ceiling and that Congress would ultimately lift the debt limit without any conditions.
“Clean, clean, clean,” he told CNN in April, referring to the push for a clean debt ceiling resolution.
But McCarthy finally passed a bill in April based solely on GOP votes. He then forced President Joe Biden to negotiate a debt limit suspension with spending cuts. And on Wednesday night, the House approved the McCarthy-Biden deal by a vote of 314-177, even winning the support of more than a majority of House Republicans and the support of 165 Democrats.
“They’re wrong,” an elated McCarthy said when asked if critics were underestimating him.
After one of the longest House races in history, winning the leadership after an ugly 15-vote fight, McCarthy managed to navigate his ideologically divided conference and end the debt-limit deadlock, even to the surprise of some of his sharpest critics.
“I’ve been thinking about this day since before I voted for minority leader because I knew the debt limit was coming up,” McCarthy said at a news conference after the vote Wednesday night. “I wanted to make history.”
Asked if he underestimated the House speaker, Schumer did not answer directly.
“Number 1, we prevented default, our number one goal, that we’ve been talking about since day one,” Schumer said. “Number 2, it’s a long, long way from where the Republicans started.”
Democrats say if the Speaker of the House surprised them in the tax fight, it’s because they didn’t think he would hold up the specter of the first default of the US over the White House until Biden agreed to negotiate on his terms.
“I think the House Republican caucus is willing to go into default,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. “When it comes to people like that, it’s really hard to negotiate.”
But it was not free.
Some Republicans seek to oust McCarthy
After the debt limit deal passed, Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado told CNN that House conservatives will debate McCarthy’s ouster “in the next week or two,” though he did not commit. to carry out that threat.
An enthusiastic Buck, who opposed the debt limit deal, told reporters that he had received calls from voters about removing McCarthy from the House speakership. “My constituents are furious, and you know what’s so interesting about calls in the district? They are not just ‘vote against this bill’, but ‘remove McCarthy’. That’s why the calls are coming in,” he said.
The same Republicans who cast their votes for McCarthy’s presidential bid in January hated the deal he struck, arguing that it failed to cut spending or deliver key political victories for conservatives. Several have spoken publicly about moving to oust him over the deal.
Rep. Chip Roy, the Texas Republican who has been an outspoken critic of the deal, promised a “reckoning” earlier this week after the deal was reached. And Rep. Dan Bishop, the North Carolina Republican who publicly vowed to attack the House leader and potentially oust him from his seat, said of his confidence in McCarthy: “None. Zero. What basis is there for trust?
Still, there have been no signs yet that hardline conservatives will actually move to oust the speaker.
During a House Freedom Caucus conference call Tuesday night when the vacancy motion was briefly raised, Chairman Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, dismissed the idea as “premature” and the conversation moved quickly, according to a source at the call.
The source said there have been private and “independent” discussions of the vacate motion among some of McCarthy’s fiercest critics, but not among the Freedom Caucus as a whole, where there is far less interest in pursuing that path.
What’s next for McCarthy
After facing a debt-limit battle that has consumed him for the past few months, McCarthy is ready for the next act of his young presidency, and he’s taking steps that may win over the far-right furious with him over his deal with the debt ceiling with the White House.
To win back some of his critics, he has promised his peers that he wants to set up a bipartisan commission to rein in sky-high deficits and privately vowed to hold the line in upcoming fights over government funding.
Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican who said McCarthy lost “some confidence” by reducing the debt deal, told CNN the House speaker had promised the leadership would be “actively” involved in the allocations process, saying that’s where “the next big debate will be.”
While the debt and spending cap have bitterly divided the Republican conference, McCarthy is now free to take more unifying steps and attack the Biden administration rather than cut a deal with the president. It’s one reason McCarthy agreed to agree to the White House’s demand to suspend the debt limit until January 2025, ensuring that the divisive issue would not be litigated before the 2024 election.
Asked what’s next now that the debt crisis is behind us, McCarthy told reporters: “We have a number of things.”
“We have to make assignments,” he said. “We have a lot of supervisory work to do. I don’t know if they followed… FBI Director Wray, who has not complied with our subpoena. He now he says that he would let us look at the document,” McCarthy told reporters.
The internal focus is already changing.
On Wednesday, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said his committee would launch contempt proceedings next week against Wray, in a move that would serve red meat to the right flank of the Republican conference.
Comer demanded that the FBI turn over an internal law enforcement document related to an unverified allegation against Biden, saying Wednesday that the FBI’s proposed accommodation to allow Comer to see the document would not be enough to stop contempt proceedings. .
Another target for far-right Republicans is Alejandro Mayorkas, the secretary of Homeland Security, whom the conservatives want to impeach over border problems.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Republican from Georgia who endorsed McCarthy’s presidency in January, told reporters she’s willing to swallow the debt ceiling deal, but said she’d like to see “dessert” for accompany him, and specifically named the idea of charging Mayorkas or Wray.
— CNN’s Morgan Rimmer, Lauren Fox and Alayna Treene contributed to this report.