WASHINGTON – Rep. Dean Phillips is willing to offer House Speaker Kevin McCarthy a lifeline if he is challenged by the right wing of the GOP for agreeing to a debt ceiling deal that could win bipartisan support.
To win the leadership of a narrow Republican majority, McCarthy agreed to change House rules to allow anyone to challenge his speakership at any time, a procedure known as a “motion to vacate the chair.” That has left McCarthy vulnerable to a revolt by the right flank of his party over a debt agreement with Senate Democrats and the White House. The GOP has 222 to 213 majority in the chamber.
A member of the bipartisan Problem Solver’s caucus, Phillips, D-3rd District, is among a group of centrist Democrats who have signaled to McCarthy they would vote to retain him as Speaker if there is a full House vote on ousting the California Republican.
“I am among those having discussions with fellow Democrats willing to place principle over politics if our counterparts are willing to do the same thing,” Phillips said. “That means protecting Speaker McCarthy from his extreme MAGA members if a demonstration of courage results in an attempt to remove him.”
Phillips has been leading conversations within the Democratic caucus over the debt ceiling, which must be raised as soon as June 1 to avoid a national default that would have a severe impact on the economy. On Thursday morning, as co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, Phillips hosted a breakfast for his Democratic colleagues that featured Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics.
But it was in more private conversations with moderate Democrats that ways to help McCarthy were discussed. The talks intensified as concerns over a catastrophic default increased.
“The congressman is very aware that there are certain members of the Republican Party that would burn down the economy if they could rule the ashes,” said Phillips spokesman Bryan Doyle.
Top aides to Biden and McCarthy are negotiating directly. But the talks have to brook a wide divide. Biden and Democrats have said they want a “clean” debt ceiling bill, with no conditions, and House Republicans have insisted on cuts to domestic programs, new work requirements for food stamp and Medicaid beneficiaries of Medicaid and an extension of Trump-era tax cuts, which Democrats say favor the wealthy.
As recently as Wednesday, McCarthy appeared with other Republicans at a Capitol rally, including some conservatives and called Biden “as a big obstacle in the White House” to a deal.
Phillips has rejected cuts to social welfare programs and has said a debt ceiling deal should include permitting reform, caps on future spending, raising the corporate tax to 25% and rescinding Trump-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
McCarthy’s office did not have an immediate response to the offer of Democratic help. But it’s not likely that the Speaker would accept it.
When several Democrats floated a similar offer to then-Speaker John Boehner in 2013 during a similar fiscal fight within the GOP, Boehner preferred to resign.