Sep 19, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP defectors sink McCarthy's push to advance Pentagon funding

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) attempt Tuesday to advance a bill funding the Department of Defense failed after a few Republican defectors voted against their party.

Why it matters: It's a highly visible defeat for McCarthy as he tries to unify Republicans around spending proposals to strengthen the House GOP's hand in budget negotiations with the Senate.

Driving the news: The procedural measure to advance the bill to a final vote — a hurdle normally decided along party lines — failed 212-214, despite Republicans having the majority.

  • All 209 Democrats present voted against the bill, which was loaded with right-wing policy riders restricting abortion access, transgender medical care, diversity and inclusion programs and affirmative action in the military.
  • Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.)) and Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) — all members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus — voted against the measure as well.

What they're saying: Norman and Biggs told Axios their votes were geared toward forcing Republican leadership to provide clarity on the total spending levels of all 12 GOP appropriations bills.

  • "They're throwing one bill out that they've plussed up, and we don't even know what the top-line numbers for the entire package" are, Biggs said. "They should be holding stuff back until we all know what the top line is."
  • "I want to have a real numbers. I don't want smoke and mirrors," Norman said.

The big picture: House Republicans have passed just one of the 12 appropriations bills so far, just two weeks before federal funding runs out on Sept. 30.

  • Leadership has had to pull votes on three spending bills — including the defense bill last week — because of persistent opposition from the right.
  • Some House Republicans have expressed concerns that without unity around conservative spending proposals, they'll be steamrolled in negotiations with the Democrat-led Senate.

The other side: Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), an old guard member of the House Appropriations Committee who has publicly bristled at the right's maneuvers on spending, told Axios the vote outcome is "frustrating as hell."

  • "I think there are some people who think that it's their way or the highway, and there's no way to solve these problems except for what they advocate," Simpson said.
  • "I don't think any of them have voted for an appropriations bill in their lives."

What's next: The decision to allow the bill to fail on the floor marks a shift in the Republican leadership's strategy for breaking the spending impasse.

  • McCarthy told reporters after the vote: "We'll keep voting on [appropriations] bills, whether they pass them or not."

Axios' Juliegrace Brufke contributed to this story.

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