- Newt Gingrich recently told Politico of the difference between the ’90s-era House GOP and today’s slim majority.
- The ex-speaker said he could “afford to have five or six people be idiots” in the face of a shutdown.
- Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Saturday muscled through a stopgap bill with mostly Democratic support.
The dynamics of what has fueled recent gridlock on Capitol Hill can be boiled down to numbers.
While Democrats retain a slight majority in the Senate, even with the recent passing of Dianne Feinstein of California, House Republicans must contend with a razor-thin 221-213 majority — putting the GOP conference in a precarious position as any major bloc within the party can help pass or scuttle critical pieces of legislation.
The House is a sharply partisan body, as opposed to the more deliberative upper chamber, which has a 60-vote threshold to pass most major bills.
So House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California faced a critical challenge on Saturday as he pushed through a 45-day stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded through November and avert a shutdown, pending Senate approval of the bill by the end of the day.
The measure passed 335-91, with only 126 Republicans backing the bill and 90 voting against.
Earlier attempts to pass a bill with additional spending for Ukraine failed, with many conservatives opposed to increased aid for the the country’s ongoing war with Russia.
With such a thin majority and the continued threat of future shutdowns, longtime Capitol Hill staffers and ex-lawmakers recalled the friction between President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia in the 1990s.
But Gingrich, who held the speaker’s gavel from 1995 to 1999, recently remarked to Politico of the difficult predicament of the current GOP majority, which has virtually no margin for error to pass the party’s priorities.
After the 1994 elections, House Republicans secured a 230-seat majority, and they won 226 seats after the 1996 elections.
During the Clinton administration, Gingrich told Politico that he could “afford to have five or six people be idiots.”
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who served from 2001 to 2019 and returned to Congress in 2021, told the publication that government shutdowns “begin with people confident that the shutdown is a good thing.”
“And end with people knowing that it wasn’t,” he added.