Sep 29, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP tensions flare as McCarthy grasps for shutdown solution

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.

House Republicans are at their wits' end as they try to cobble together yet another plan to pass legislation aimed at averting a government shutdown that would start at midnight on Saturday.

Driving the news: A closed-door GOP conference meeting devolved into accusations and recriminations on Friday evening after Republicans failed to pass a 30-day funding extension, according to lawmakers and sources in the room.

What they're saying: Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) told Axios there is "frustration" at the GOP hardliners who "want to chase cameras and want to move the goal line."

  • Murphy criticized Republicans who have "said some honestly ridiculous things online about other Republicans." He stood up during the meeting to say: "If you have something to say to me ... say it to my face."
  • Leaving the meeting early, Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), told Axios it was "unproductive," adding, "We're just screaming at each other at this point."
  • "We've taken a setback here. There's some emotions going on," said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.). "You make a lot of mistakes when you are tired and mad, and we are both right now."

The intrigue: Most of the 21 holdouts weren't present for much of the meeting, according to several members.

  • "They weren't even here. I called them out for not being in conference. One of them apparently went down to Bullfeathers," Murphy said, referring to a Capitol Hill tavern.
  • "They're not in the room, so we end up kind of talking to ourselves," said Womack.

The state of play: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) announced the cancellation of a planned two-week October recess and laid out a schedule for passing the remaining eight appropriations bills by the end of the month, according to multiple sources in the room and photos obtained by Axios.

  • Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), one of the hardliners who opposed the 30-day bill, said cancelling the recess is "absolutely" the right call, but the appropriations schedule is "far too lax."

What we're hearing: Republicans are currently whipping votes on an identical version of the failed stopgap bill that would stave off a shutdown for two weeks in the hopes of peeling off some of the 21 holdouts, according to several House Republicans.

  • But where there is a carrot there is also stick: Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), a deputy GOP whip, told Axios he expects a vote on a bipartisan measure –potentially the Senate's bill –  if the whip count shows insufficient right-wing support to pass even a 14-day bill.
  • That strategy appears to have paid some dividends, with right-wing Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) telling reporters the 21 holdouts are "down to nine."

Yes, but: The strategy still may fall short, as many of the holdouts have said they aren't willing to vote for any stopgap bill, period.

  • "I'm not a fan," said Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.). "I never say never, but I'd say I'm 95% there."
  • Barr sounded pessimistic, saying "I don't think the whip count shows that there's enough of the 21 that would even vote for a shorter [stopgap]."

Even if Republicans pass a party-line bill, its spending cuts and conservative policy riders would make it a non-starter in the Senate, putting Congress no closer to actually avoiding a shutdown.

The bottom line: "I think it's pretty safe to say that tomorrow at midnight, the lights are going to go out," said Womack, calling a shutdown "inevitable."

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