It’s late Friday as I write this, and I have one question: Do you know where your congresspeople are?

I’ve got a hint. Most likely, they’re not in D.C., doing the work of America. No, if they’re not junketing somewhere or seeing if they can get in on the Robert Menendez deal, they’re back in the home district, having to explain to constituents why the government is about to shut down.

With a shutdown looming at the end of the month, Speaker-for-now Kevin McCarthy has sent Republican House members home until at least Tuesday, which would leave, by my count, five days before a shutdown would begin. Is it just an illusion or does this particular doomsday clock seem perilously close to midnight?

So, you’re asking, why did McCarthty send everyone home when time is so short to get a deal done?

I can think of a few reasons. 

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It could be a giant time out for the less ruly members in the GOP caucus, although in this case, I think the old-school dunce cap might be more appropriate.

It could be that McCarthy just can’t stand the sight of Matt Gaetz and the rest of the rotating Freedom Caucusers who believe that shutting down the government is a viable option.

It’s pretty clear how McCarthy is thinking: After Gaetz and company beat back a rules vote on whether to bring a defense appropriations bill to the floor — which was also a vote to cut McCarthy off at the knees — the speaker-for-now said, “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. It doesn’t work.”

Yes, they are arsonists or, as one Republican put it, “a clown show.” Another congressman asked of Gaetz, in presumably a rhetorical question, “What has he ever done anyway?”

You may recall exactly what Gaetz, along with Lauren Boebert and the rest of Team Anarchy, did when they held up McCarthy’s bid to become speaker, a process lasting a humiliating 15 rounds. McCarthy didn’t get the job until he made all manner of promises to the crazies — not all of them yet known — that he seems unable to keep.

One we do know about is that he agreed to allow a single member of his caucus to, at any point, call for a motion to vacate, which, in more common language, means a motion to kick McCarthy out of his job. We know it’s coming. In one caucus meeting, McCarthy shouted to his nemeses that they should just go ahead and “file the f—-ing motion.”

Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he sent them home, so he could keep his phony baloney job at least until Tuesday.

And here’s the funny part — I knew you were looking for one. The House funding bill that has been rejected by the ultra-MAGA team would be dead on arrival at the Senate anyway. It’s not a serious plan. It’s a plan loaded with a right-wing wish list that everyone knows the Senate will laugh off the floor. The plan may not give the MAGA guys everything they want — just more than anyone else would. 

And that included McCarthy’s refusal to invite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speak to the House. Maybe that’s because McCarthy knows how many of his members want to cut off aid to Ukraine, and he feared a possible scene. Or maybe he just didn’t want them to see what a real leader looks like.

Twice, McCarthy thought he had the votes to get the defense funding bill to the floor, where it could be debated. And twice — the sound you hear is Nancy Pelosi saying, “Can’t these guys count?” — they didn’t have enough votes. This is beyond humiliating. It’s closer to being humiliatingly incompetent.

One of those votes to stop the defense bill came via Ken Buck, who has been presenting himself lately as a semi-sane member of the Freedom Caucus while going on every available cable TV news show to try to undermine the Republican case for impeaching Joe Biden.

The rumor is that it’s all basically a tryout for Buck as a talking head on, say, CNN, where they prefer their right-wing commentators to be mostly sane. Buck has admitted he’s interested. But the more often the rumor’s repeated, the more often Buck says that, no, he still plans to run for his House seat again. 

It should be noted, though, that the next time the bill came up, Buck changed his no vote to yes. Was he hoping that Wolf Blitzer would notice? 

And yet, there are options, we’re told, to save the Republicans from going all Newt Gingrich on us. After all, conventional wisdom, such as it is, suggests that a shutdown would give Democrats a huge boost in taking back the House in 2024.

Rep. Michael Lawler, a New York Republican from a district that voted for Biden, has said he would vote along with the Democrats on a clean funding resolution, which would bring all the House Democrats with him. If Lawler could get three or four more Republicans, the government would  be funded, and I’d be getting my Social Security check on time.

Of Gaetz and his team, Lawler told reporters, “You want me to follow that clown show? These folks don’t have a plan. They don’t know how to take ‘yes’ for an answer. They don’t know what it is to work as a team. They don’t know how to define a win.”

Lawler later explained in an interview with CNN’s Manu Raju, “You keep running lunatics, you’re going to be in this position.”

Another option would be for McCarthy to cut a deal with Democrats that if he finds a way to send over a reasonable bill, they won’t vote with the Republicans when they call to vacate his chair. 

Of course, if McCarthy is dumped, Democrats won’t be surprised if someone tries to float Donald Trump as a successor. In one more piece of Washington weirdness, it seems you have to be an actual member of the House to be speaker. And whoever it would be, there’s every chance that the person would be even weaker than McCarthy.

I’d say the most likely scenario is that the government shuts down — saving McCarthy’s job for the moment — and then when it eventually reopens, McCarthy gets the boot.

It’s a lose-lose-lose situation, which shouldn’t be surprising. At a time when all seems very close to being lost, Rep. Victoria Sparta, R-Ind., tweeted this possible epitaph for Speaker-for-now McCarthy’s job.

“Unfortunately, real leadership takes courage and willingness to fight for the country, not for power and a picture on the wall,” she wrote.

The picture may stay up. But you have to believe that McCarthy is going down.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow. Sign up for Mike’s newsletter.

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