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McCarthy’s gamble on Ukraine, the debt ceiling and January 6 may not be sustainable

CNN —

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is perhaps the only senior Western official who has refused to board the train to Kiev to ally himself with Ukraine’s warrior president.

But the California Republican’s decision to decline Volodymyr Zelensky’s invitation, made in an exclusive interview with CNN, is consistent with the central premise of his speech — to placate the GOP radicals who keep him in power.

But, as with his handling of a looming debt-ceiling crisis and his efforts to help Tucker Carlson whitewash the Capitol riot, McCarthy’s unwillingness to get in the way of lawmakers looking to cut Ukraine’s US lifeline could simply damming up future national crises that could threaten his hold on power.

His precarious position is quickly becoming a dominant feature of a critical period of divided government that will define McCarthy’s political career and go a long way in shaping the 2024 White House race and President Joe Biden’s legacy.

The fickle dynamics of the House GOP and the way McCarthy’s tiny majority bestows outsize influence on the most committed “Make America Great Again” loyalists are also complicating his efforts to bring undivided attention to Biden’s new budget, due out Thursday should.

Moderate Republicans, who helped the GOP win a majority last November, are just as important to the party’s hopes of retaining control of the chamber next year as pro-Trump extremists. But their priorities risk being constantly compromised by the Speaker’s repeated references to Trump’s base and the ex-President’s most devoted supporters in the House of Representatives.

McCarthy’s balancing act has so far worked politically for him. His decision to allow Jan. 6 conspirator Carlson access to US Capitol security tapes sparked a flurry of criticism from the media and some Republican senators, but that counts as a political victory for the MAGA crowd. A House Republican resolution blocking a controversial crime measure in Washington DC, which was also passed by the Senate on Wednesday, created a split between progressive Democrats and the president, who declined to veto it. And there is no immediate bill for more billions in aid to Ukraine, which could widen the rift between far-right lawmakers and GOP committee chairs who want Biden to send more guns and ammunition into Ukraine’s proxy war against Russia.

But at some point — possibly in the upcoming summer showdown over increasing the government’s borrowing powers, which the GOP opposes without Biden agreeing to transformative spending cuts — McCarthy’s strategy could founder in a battle between US interests and the Speaker’s political needs.

Almost every major Western leader, and many who are not, have now made the daring journey to visit a hero of democracy Zelenskyy in Kiev.

But McCarthy, who has a reputation for loving photo ops with famous people, declined an invitation to visit the Ukrainian leader.

“Mr. McCarthy, he needs to come here to see how we work, what’s happening here, what war we’ve caused, what people are fighting now, who’s fighting now. And after that, make your guesses,” Zelensky told CNNs Wolf Blitzer.

But the California Republican told CNN Tuesday he had no plans to visit, reiterating the illogical position that Biden has been too slow to help Ukraine but will not preside over a “blank check” in support of Zelenskyy’s government. McCarthy’s bridging of two adamant lines of opinion in the House GOP on Ukraine is just about to endure.

“Let’s be very clear on what I said: No blank checks, OK? So from that perspective, I don’t need to go to Ukraine to understand where there is or isn’t a blank check,” McCarthy told CNN. “I will continue to receive my briefings and others, but I don’t have to travel to Ukraine or Kiev to see them.”

Zelensky is a shrewd politician who expertly conjured up the history and national mythology of Western nations when he asked for help repelling the Russian invasion – for example, by countering the attack with attacks on US soil at Pearl Harbor and on September 11, 2007. September 2001 compared. McCarthy would be placed in a deeply awkward position if he stood alongside the Ukrainian leader in his wartime capital and reiterated his line of not allowing “blank checks.”

But making the trip is a virtual political impossibility, with his political patron Trump accusing Biden of caring more about Ukraine’s borders than America’s. Sooner or later, however, McCarthy may be faced with a choice between the GOP hardliners and the prospect of rejecting a future funding bill that Ukraine needs to survive against the Russian onslaught. Because of concessions he made to gain the speakership, it’s not clear he could use Democratic votes without provoking a GOP hardliner revolt at his conference that could cost him his job.

Critics might hope he has placed principles – defending a pro-Western leader who has risked everything and a democracy that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to obliterate – above his political viability. But that’s not an approach he took at home after Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election.

Still, McCarthy has not fully embraced calls from his most radical subordinates, such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, for audits or an end to aid to Ukraine. His line about a blank check could be interpreted as a wait-and-see attitude between his fellow extremists and the combative internationalist Republicans who want to do more.

But with Russia only escalating its attack and the GOP presidential primary likely to pull the party toward the anti-aid faction, that’s a position that could crumble for much longer.

The speaker is treading a delicate path, and not only in the Ukraine. His strategy en route to a monumental showdown over spending and debt is one that will prop him up for now but will require a series of political feats to go neck and neck with Biden.

Unless Congress raises the government’s current borrowing limit of $31.4 trillion later this year, the government will default on its commitments. There could be delays in Social Security payments, military pay, and tax refunds. But Republicans in the House are refusing to act unless Biden agrees to steep spending cuts, and McCarthy appeared committed to standing firm when he needed the support of GOP budget hawks to finally pass the 15-round chaotic vote in January to gain speakership.

Biden refuses to negotiate, arguing that raising the debt limit is necessary to pay off obligations already accumulated by Congress and that the GOP previously voted to raise it multiple times under the permissive Trump.

Republicans have every right to cut spending. They won the House of Representatives in the midterm election, albeit narrowly, on their promise to curb government generosity. But the White House and many financial pundits have accused them of limiting debt because failure to act could undermine America’s creditworthiness and plunge the global economy into disaster.

McCarthy has not provided a clear path through this Russian roulette game. And he blames Biden for not backing his promise not to negotiate.

“He once told me he would do it, I believe he will eventually, but that’s a wasted month. This is a month that brings more doubts financially. This is a month that hurts Americans,” McCarthy told reporters Wednesday night.

McCarthy is betting Biden will blink. The White House insists he will not. And the prosperity and livelihoods of millions of Americans could be at stake.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise on Wednesday accused reporters of obsessing over the mob attack by Trump supporters on Congress.

“It seems like some in the press want to talk about January 6th every day. The same goes for many Democrats,” said the Republican from Louisiana.

But it was McCarthy who ignited the latest controversy over the riot, giving Carlson exclusive access to thousands of hours of surveillance tapes and allowing the Fox host to single out excerpts that bolstered his efforts to uncover the truth about what happened , to hide. And it’s House Republicans talking about the day, with Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who chairs a subcommittee on the House Administration and tells CNN he will investigate how the “January 6 committee dropped the ball.” what actually happened here in the Capitol”.

Republicans have consistently tried to blame security failures for the worst attack on US democracy in decades, rather than a president who incited an angry crowd with lies about voter fraud and marched them to the Capitol with calls for a “hell fight.” ‘ ringing in her ears.

But the MAGA wing of the party rewriting Jan. 6 history threatens to continue the very anti-democratic extremism that contributed to Trump’s 2020 election loss and that alienated swing-state voters in the midterms of 2022, giving McCarthy a so thin majority is imposed .

Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse of Washington state, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the 2021 riot, told CNN on Wednesday that Fox News and some in his party were wrong when they attempted to rewrite the events of January 6th.

“This is a revisionist thing that I think is unfair to the American people,” he said.

The radical Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are using their power to try to reshape the narrative about Trump’s attack on democracy as he assumes a new position in the White House, reflect more than just the character of the new GOP majority.

It summarizes the compromises McCarthy made to come to power. But at least as far as Ukraine and the debt are concerned, the time may be approaching when he could face painful decisions that could decide how long he can keep the job he fought so hard to get – and that will be America’s Shaping the future at home and abroad.

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