Updated Sep 30, 2023 - Politics & Policy

McCarthy's weekend from hell

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) lacks an easy path to funding the government that wouldn't put his leadership position in jeopardy, with lawmakers growing increasingly exasperated as Congress barrels toward a shutdown on Oct 1.

Why it matters: The California Republican is stuck between moderates who fear a shutdown will cost them their seats and conservative hardliners who threaten to take his gavel unless the House passes spending cuts that are dead on arrival in the Senate.

  • It's a "worse dynamic in conference than January," one GOP lawmaker told Axios.

Zoom in: During a contentious conference meeting on Friday evening, McCarthy told members they could either:

  1. Pass a GOP-led spending stopgap.
  2. "Dare Democrats" to vote against a short-term bill that keeps current funding intact but attaches disaster relief.
  3. "Eat the Senate bill that includes Ukraine funding" (McCarthy later posted on X that the Senate bill was dead on arrival.)
  4. Face a government shutdown.

Leadership told members Friday they are canceling recess to pass their remaining appropriations bills.

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — who McCarthy has publicly sparred with in recent days — continues to the hold the threat of a motion to vacate over the speaker's head, maintaining his position that they need to pass individual spending bills instead of "kicking the can down the road."

What's next: After repeated failed attempts at passing a stopgap that included spending cuts and language on border security, McCarthy publicly floated the idea of a "clean stopgap" on Friday evening.

  • "I think if we had a clean [stopgap] without Ukraine on it, we could probably be able to move that through. I think if the Senate puts Ukraine on there and focuses Ukraine over America, I think that could cause real problems," he said.
  • A one or two week stopgap has also been floated, with a handful of conservatives saying they could back it now that there is a clear schedule for completing work on appropriations bills.
  • Moderates have been weighing procedural options to force a vote on a bill that could potentially pass both chambers, arguing that Republicans are likely to get blamed for a shutdown, which would put the majority at risk.

Between the lines: A short-term bill that keeps current funding levels intact but attaches language on border security has been discussed as an option.

  • But one Republican lawmaker told Axios that the "Senate GOP is saying border security doesn't have the votes in a CR."

The big picture: Both a government shutdown and a motion to vacate are looking possible with just a day for both chambers to fund the government.

  • House Republicans have struggled to pass the individual spending bills that have come to the floor, despite the legislation being dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled Senate due to lower spending levels.
  • Some lawmakers fear the House's failure to pass a stopgap has limited their leverage to negotiate with the Senate to score conservative wins.
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