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Putinists in the House Take the Next Step

“The most powerful concept for me right now is the economic idea of the revealed preference. A lot of us are discovering what our truest commitments are. What do we really care about? … For some people on the right, they’re discovering they care about the culture wars more than they care about a constitutional democracy.” – David Frum, October 2018

In the case of the Republican Party – or at least the majority of its caucus in the House of Representatives – their revealed preference became clear over this weekend. Their top priority isn’t getting a hold of spending, or changing events on our border with Mexico, or “regular order” appropriations. It was cutting off [1] aid to Ukraine. It was the one thing on which Kevin McCarthy didn’t budge [2], the one thing that a majority of Republicans were willing to vote against [3].

Well, they got what they wanted (WaPo [4]).

A last-ditch effort on Capitol Hill Saturday staved off a government shutdown [5] with less than three hours to spare, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in an abrupt strategic reversal, offered a plan that won the support of nearly all House Democrats and most Republicans to keep the government open through mid-November.

However, the resolution does not include any funding for Ukraine [6] in its war against Russia, a major priority for Democrats, sparking immediate calls for separate legislation to provide money to Kyiv. The legislation was briefly held up in the Senate by Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), who wanted assurances there would be a prompt vote on a supplemental aid package for Ukraine.

A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said Democrats expect McCarthy to bring a stand-alone bill for Ukraine aid to the House floor. The official declined to provide additional details, but pointed to McCarthy’s numerous public statements expressing support for Ukraine.

Personally, I don’t agree with the unnamed White House official. Whatever McCarthy might want to do regarding Ukraine, I doubt he’ll get the chance. The Kremlin Caucus is already preparing for Step 2 of Operation Ukraine Drop Dead (WaPo [7]).

Gaetz said Sunday that he plans to introduce a motion to remove McCarthy from his leadership position, marking a dramatic escalation of the long-simmering tensions between the men. Once Gaetz does so, the House would have 48 hours to vote on the matter. The Florida Republican did not say when he would introduce the motion.

“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” Gaetz said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Apparently, Gaetz would have introduced the motion on Saturday, but was waylaid by an adjournment (WaPo [8]).

Monday it is, then.

With this motion, Gaetz can accomplish two things for the Kremlin caucus: one short term and one long term.

In the short term, a round of Speaker votes will paralyze the House (remember, it took nearly a week for McCarthy to win the job in the first place). No business will be done – meaning no appropriations for Ukraine can get through. This is just a delaying tactic but it will work.

The long-term goal is much more dangerous: Gaetz will want a Speaker who never allows a Ukraine funding bill to hit the floor under any circumstances. He and his cohorts are gambling that they can find someone ambitious enough to let Ukraine wither and die the title of Speaker. They may not be wrong – and even if they is wrong, they lose nothing from where he is now.

Democrats awash in the false glow of their apparent victories on domestic spending matter need to understand what the actual game is here. Amidst supposed confusion and chaos in Republican ranks, the Kremlin caucus knows exactly what it’s doing and got exactly what it wanted. If we’re not careful, they will succeed again and turn this minor victory for Putin into a major defeat for the democratic world.