Dec 21, 2022 - Politics & Policy

"Not gonna do this again": Inside the GOP infighting over the omnibus

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged his support for House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy during a closed-door conference lunch on Wednesday, multiple sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Despite the show of solidarity — "we're all pulling for you," McConnell told him — tensions over Ukraine funding and Congress' $1.7 trillion spending bill remained a clear sticking point.

Inside the room: Senate Republicans invited McCarthy and Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts to today's Senate GOP lunch to discuss priorities for the 118th Congress, hash out differences over the current omnibus bill and game out how to handle future funding negotiations, the sources said.

  • Ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's joint address to Congress Wednesday evening, McConnell made clear he's in favor of continuing to send assistance to Ukraine.

Driving the news: McConnell argued the best way to beat China is to beat Russia in the war, a source in the room told Axios.

  • McCarthy, meanwhile, has said repeatedly that aid to Ukraine cannot come in the form of a blank check.
  • Roberts argued the Heritage Foundation believes there must be more oversight and accountability for any additional funding, and mentioned concerns over Ukraine being a "corrupt" country.

What we're hearing: Funding dominated the conversation.

  • McCarthy made clear that he and McConnell are in "different spots" regarding the omnibus bill — McCarthy opposes it while McConnell plans to vote for it — but both agreed that more time must be spent on future spending negotiations.
  • Many senators, including Sens. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), expressed their opinion that funding bills must be processed through "regular order" — meaning more time for debate and amendments.
  • "I'm not gonna do this again," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Axios. "I told all our guys that this is the last time I'm gonna vote for train wreck. ... We're gonna go back to regular order.”
  • McCarthy's Tuesday threat to block legislative priorities from any senator who supports the omnibus never came up, three of the sources said.

Roberts took a much harsher approach and said the Heritage Foundation as a whole is very opposed to the current omnibus bill.

  • Roberts criticized GOP lawmakers for voting to spend trillions of dollars while inflation remains the top issue among Republican voters, a source in the room told Axios.
  • Roberts also demanded Republicans come up with a better, more coordinated plan for America's future, arguing it's what the GOP base wants.
  • Roberts then dove into his 7-point plan for Heritage, focusing on China, the border, education and spending as the party's core priorities.

McCarthy also discussed his vision for the new Republican agenda drawing from his pre-midterms "Commitment to America" platform.

The bottom line: McCarthy and McConnell remain apart on several key issues, but both showed an eagerness to work together and find common ground, the sources said.

  • Both leaders recognize how difficult governing will be in the new year, with Republicans having a very tight majority in the House and stuck in the minority in the Senate.
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