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D.C. Memo: Emmer’s name floated among talk of McCarthy ouster; Klobuchar, Smith split over Menendez

With a shutdown looming, Washington is abuzz with talk of a Freedom Caucus attempt to replace Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rebellious, ultraconservative Freedom House members seeking to replace House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have Rep. Tom Emmer, above, in their sights as a possible successor.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON — With a full federal government shutdown likely days away, U.S. House Republicans are shifting the blame to President Biden and House Democrats.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, has not negotiated with Democrats over  legislation that would avert a shutdown. McCarthy instead has insisted on the approval of appropriations bills, including a short-term measure that would give Congress more time to work out a budget, with only Republican votes.

McCarthy this week rejected the consideration of a bipartisan short-term bill, called a continuing resolution, that is making its way through the U.S. Senate.

Instead, the speaker said  it was important for Biden to meet with him to discuss the  stalemate, which he said was caused by the failure to adopt a House GOP border bill.

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So, like the last shutdown of the federal government in December of 2018, which was touched off by a dispute over funding former President Trump’s border wall, McCarthy is trying to blame an expected shutdown this weekend on partisan disputes over immigration.

“Listen, the president, all he has to do … it’s only actions that he has to take. He can do it like that. He changed all the policies on the border. He can change those,” McCarthy said. “We can keep government open and finish out the work that we have done.”

Meanwhile, rebellious, ultraconservative Freedom House members seeking to replace McCarthy have Rep. Tom Emmer in their sights as a possible successor. Emmer, R-6th District, is the third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership, holding the position of majority whip, and is a close ally of McCarthy.

Nevertheless, his name has come up as one of several House Republicans who could replace the embattled speaker, who is under threat of a “motion to vacate,” or remove him from office by forcing a vote on his leadership. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, who has long opposed McCarthy’s leadership, could introduce his motion as early as Sunday. 

Emmer has had no discussions with anyone about allowing himself to be submitted as a McCarthy replacement in any move to oust the speaker, according to a source with knowledge of the House leadership discussions who spoke to MinnPost on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, House Democrats are considering a strategy to help save McCarthy from a vote for his ouster, something that would exponentially increase the chaos in the U.S. House as the nation braces for a shutdown of the federal government this weekend.

Those House Democrats are considering joining the vast majority of House Republicans who support McCarthy in “tabling” or rejecting, any motion to vacate Gaetz or any other lawmaker may file in an attempt to remove the speaker. 

Biden and congressional Democrats are trying to brand the likely shuttering of the U.S. government the “extreme Republican shutdown.”

“Minnesota families shouldn’t be forced to pay the price for House Republicans’ inability to govern,” Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, said in a statement. “An extreme Republican shutdown would endanger access to food assistance for families, risk air travel disruptions for businesses and travelers, harm small businesses, and force thousands of FEMA disaster workers, FBI agents, and U.S. service members, among federal employees, to work without pay. It is unconscionable that House Republicans would hurt working families, damage our economy, and endanger our national security.”

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The U.S. House focused on moving four appropriations bills through its chamber this week, although all would be rejected by the U.S. Senate.

Three Minnesota Republicans on Wednesday supported failed amendments to a massive Pentagon spending bill that would have cut U.S. funding to Ukraine. The amendments — which got “yes” votes from Reps. Brad Finstad, R-1st District, Michelle Fischbach, R-7th District, and Pete Stauber, R-8th District — were sponsored by Freedom Caucus members. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, voted “no.”

Finstad, Fischbach and Stauber have voted to eliminate funding for Ukraine before.

McCarthy said he intends to try again to strip out Ukraine funding from the defense bill since the issue has split House Republicans.

The defense bill has failed to move forward twice before. Even if McCarthy manages to finally get it passed, U.S. troops would still lose their paychecks during a shutdown and defense contractors would be impacted. That’s because the U.S. Senate would reject the House bill for its failure to help Ukraine and for policy riders that target LGBTQ rights and for other controversial measures.

Those in uniform who will no longer receive pay include reservists and members of Minnesota’s National Guard who are serving overseas or otherwise called up by the Pentagon.

Programs for the poor would be among the first affected by the shutdown, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC, that provides nutritional food to low-income pregnant women, mothers and young children.

While Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that most states do not have funding for more than a week after a shutdown for the program, Minnesota’s Department of Public Health said Wednesday it had enough money to run the program for “two or three weeks” after a shutdown.

Air travelers are also likely to feel an immediate impact. A shutdown means that more than 13,000 air traffic controllers and 50,000 Transportation Security Officers — in addition to thousands of other Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) personnel — would have to show up for work without getting paid.

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Many of these “essential” workers called in sick or took leave during the last shutdown, resulting in significant delays and longer wait times for travelers at airports across the nation.

To make matters worse for air travelers, this Saturday also was the deadline to  reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration bill.

Since that isn’t likely to happen, training of new air traffic controllers would cease, work on technology upgrades would be disrupted, and the agency would lose more than $50 million a day in revenue from taxes on airline tickets and fuel that help to fund its operations.

In a Wednesday press conference, Transportation Secretary Peter Buttigieg warned of looming problems.

“I want you to imagine the pressure that a controller is already under every time they take their position at work. And then imagine the added stress of coming to that job from a household with a family that can no longer count on that paycheck,” Buttigieg said. “That is the consequence of a shutdown.”

Smith, Klobuchar split over Menendez

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota, was ill with COVID and isolating in Minnesota this week, missing the chaos in Congress.

But Smith, who replaced former Sen. Al Franken after he was pressured to resign from the Senate because of allegations of improper behavior, did weigh in on whether another colleague under pressure to resign this week should do the same.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted this week on charges of corruption and bribery conspiracy that resulted in his receiving payments in gold bars, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and a luxury car.

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Menendez has repeatedly claimed he’s innocent of the charges. And Smith said Menendez should have his day in court: “These are serious charges, but as I have always said, everyone is entitled to due process.”

But a growing number of Menendez’s Democratic colleagues said this week he should leave the U.S. Senate, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota.

“I believe Senator Menendez should resign,” she said. “The charges documented in the criminal indictment demonstrate egregious conduct that violates the public trust.”

Your questions and comments

As you know, I was sad to see MinnPost recently end its practice of publishing comments on stories, and I encouraged my readers to keep reaching out.

I received a couple of interesting queries this week. A reader asked on our Facebook page whether Social Security payments will cease during a shutdown.

The answer is that Social Security payments will continue even if the government is shut down because they are paid out of the Social Security Trust Fund, which is funded by payroll taxes, not by an appropriation by Congress.

But many federal workers at the Social Security Administration will be furloughed, or sent home without pay, during a shutdown. That would delay new applications and  employment verifications. Social Security recipients may also find it difficult to find someone at the agency to answer questions over the phone.

Another reader asked how a shutdown would impact airline operations. I hope I have answered that in this memo.

I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer all of your questions every week. But I’ll try. Please let me know what you think of this experiment by sending me an email ( or contacting my editors (

Also, a special request should the federal government shutdown: I’d love to hear from you about how the shutdown would impact you, whether you may be out of work or how an end to a government service would affect you. Please contact me at

MinnPost welcomes feedback, news tips and suggested corrections at