WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) signaled Friday night it was still possible to move a temporary stopgap spending bill through Congress in time to avoid a shutdown Saturday night, but the price would be immediate support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian invaders.
House Republicans tanked their own original short-term funding bill earlier in the day as 21 GOP members broke ranks to vote with Democrats against a bill that would have cut most agencies’ funding by 30% through Oct. 31 and beefed up security on the U.S.-Mexico border. It failed on a 198-232 vote.
Speaking to reporters after a two-hour-plus party meeting, McCarthy was asked what kind of temporary funding bill could pass the House.
“I think if we had a clean one without Ukraine, we could probably be able to move that through,” he said. “I think if the Senate puts Ukraine on there and focuses on Ukraine over America, I think that could cause real problems.”
That condition is unlikely to fly in the Senate, though, where Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have been united in support for the embattled Eastern European country. About $6.1 billion was included in the Senate’s version of a bipartisan stopgap bill, a down payment on President Joe Biden’s $20 billion request.
Russia invaded Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions on Feb. 24, 2022, starting Europe’s bloodiest war since World War II. A Ukrainian counteroffensive over the summer has made steady but slow progress in pushing the invaders out. Russian troops have been accused of torture and using rape as a weapon of war in areas that have since been liberated.
Unless a bill is passed by Saturday night, a shutdown begins on Sunday. The impact would likely be muted over the weekend, but once the workweek begins in earnest on Monday, many federal employees would be put on furlough and others would be required to work without pay. The White House said Friday that more than 2 million members of the military and more than 1.5 million civilians would lose paychecks in a shutdown.
Some Republicans have sought to downplay the impact of a shutdown.
“Democrats are going to criticize us for the shutdown,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told HuffPost after the vote. “But the Democrats were the party that continued to keep long COVID shutdowns going.”
Other Republicans voiced frustration with their colleagues for tanking their own bill.
“If you’ve got to have a shutdown to force change, that’s fine, but not pigheaded, stupid nonsense, which is what I’m seeing right now,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said.
After the party meeting, party moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) said he had suggested a “clean” stopgap bill.
“You have to work across the aisle. You’re going to have to get a bipartisan bill. And you’re going to have to do it anyway, because you have to get a deal with the Senate,” he said.
The House stopgap funding bill that failed Friday would have funded government agencies except for defense at about 30% less than the current rate until Oct. 31. It also included provisions from a border security bill passed by the House earlier this year but never brought up in the Senate. Another provision was a proposal for a bipartisan commission that would be charged with coming up with ways to stabilize the national debt and present those to Congress immediately after the 2024 election.
The Senate’s efforts to pass a stopgap bill have been bipartisan, but they are hampered by time. A vote to end debate and allow a vote on the actual bill probably won’t take place until Saturday, and it is unclear if the final vote would happen Saturday or Sunday. McCarthy has signaled no interest in taking up the Senate bill as it stands — even if it was passed before the Saturday night deadline to keep the government open.
McCarthy said the House would be in session on Saturday but that he was not sure what members would be voting on.
The Washington Post reported Thursday a group of conservative House Republicans planned to try to oust McCarthy from the speaker’s post and replace him with Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), the third-ranking Republican as the party’s whip. But Emmer has publicly signaled no interest in the idea and there is no obvious rival to McCarthy who could easily win approval.
McCarthy’s loudest critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has repeatedly threatened to force a no-confidence vote in McCarthy, declined Friday to say if he would follow through.
“My sole focus is on getting our single-subject spending bills passed,” Gaetz told reporters. “The speaker’s continuing resolution went down in flames, as I’ve told you all week it would.”