McCarthy says hard-right Republicans ‘want to burn whole place down’

<span>Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP</span>
Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The House Republican speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was dealt his second humiliating defeat of the week on Thursday, when his conference again failed to approve a procedural motion as members continued to clash over government spending levels with just days left to avert a federal shutdown.

With no clear path forward in Republicans’ negotiations, the House concluded its work on Thursday without any stated plan to reconvene on Friday.

“Discussions related to [fiscal year 2024] appropriations are ongoing,” Congressman Tom Emmer, the House Republican whip, said in a statement. “Members are advised that ample notice will be given ahead of any potential votes tomorrow or this weekend.”

A proposal to take up House Republicans’ defense spending bill failed in a vote of 216 to 212, with five hard-right members joining Democrats in opposing the motion. The vote marked the second time this week that the motion had failed, after members of the House Freedom caucus first blocked the bill on Tuesday.

The defeat was interpreted as a dismal sign for House Republicans’ prospects of approving a separate stopgap spending bill before government funding runs out at the end of the month.

McCarthy had projected optimism heading into the Thursday vote, saying he and his allies had made substantial progress in their talks with the holdout Republicans on Wednesday. But five members of the House Freedom caucus – Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Eli Crane of Arizona, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Rosendale of Montana – still opposed the procedural motion on Thursday.

Leaving the floor on Thursday, McCarthy voiced exasperation with his critics within the Republican conference.

“I don’t understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate,” McCarthy told reporters. “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. That doesn’t work.”

The Democratic House minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, chastised his Republican colleagues over their internal divisions, accusing them of jeopardizing Americans’ wellbeing for the sake of a political stunt.

Given that the defense spending bill is usually one of the least contentious spending measures in the House, the second failed vote spelled major trouble for the spending talks. If no agreement is reached on a series of funding bills, the federal government will shutter on 30 September. In the event of a shutdown, starting 1 October, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would likely go without pay and key healthcare and other public programs would be affected.

“House Republicans continue to be held captive by the most extreme element of their conference, and it’s hurting the American people,” Jeffries said at a press conference. “Why are the American people facing down another manufactured GOP crisis? They need to end their civil war.”

Related: Zelenskiy faces difficult conversations in Washington amid spending battle

There are several unknowns still hanging over McCarthy’s effort, which, as the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has pointed out, could be politically damaging to the party.

The first is whether hard-right members of the House Freedom caucus – who have capitalized on McCarthy’s narrow majority – will eventually abandon their blockade as the shutdown deadline approaches.

The second is if whatever bill Republicans do pass will include the Ukraine aid and disaster relief funding the Democratic-led Senate is demanding. Without Senate agreement, any measure cannot be enacted.

Explaining her vote against advancing the defense bill on Thursday, Greene said she wanted to send a message about the need to end funding for Ukraine. “I just voted NO to the rule for the Defense bill because they refused to take the war money for Ukraine out and put it in a separate bill,” Greene said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

McCarthy has made clear to his party that he will approach Biden’s pending request for an additional $24bn in support for Ukraine with considerable scepticism – taking into consideration extremist members, like Greene and Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida, who have signaled that their stance against Ukraine funding is non-negotiable.

“Is [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy elected to Congress? Is he our president? I don’t think I have to commit anything and I think I have questions for him,” McCarthy told ABC News, as the Ukrainian president prepared to meet Joe Biden at the White House.

Donald Trump, the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, has complicated matters from the sidelines, urging Republicans to use government funding as leverage for his own personal gains.

“A very important deadline is approaching at the end of the month,” Trump posted on Truth Social, his own social media platform. “Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden’s weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State.”

The former president, who faces 91 criminal charges over election subversion, retention of classified information and hush-money payments, as well as assorted civil lawsuits, added: “This is also the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me and other patriots.”