Republicans seem even further from resolution as US shutdown deadline nears

<span>Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Republican leaders seemed to move further away from a resolution to the impending government shutdown on Tuesday.

In a sign of how bad the party’s split has become, a procedural vote on the short-term funding bill expected to happen today was cancelled, and an attempt to advance a Pentagon spending bill was voted down, thanks to rightwing Republicans. The vote intensifies the risk of a shutdown on 1 October and Kevin McCarthy losing his speakership.

As another week of negotiations wears on, Republicans in the House of Representatives are in a state of “civil war”, according to the Democratic minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries. Media reports suggested that a newly aggressive McCarthy was ready to force a showdown with the hardliners in his party less than two weeks before the deadline to keep federal agencies afloat.

But the day’s chaos revealed that he still faced a steep uphill climb, with far-right Republicans Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene signaling earlier in the day that even a resolution to temporarily delay a shutdown was out of reach.

Part of the holdup includes proposed amendments from far-right Republicans on the continuing resolution that would prevent funds from being used for Ukraine aid and other initiatives. Greene’s list of amendments also included a ban on funding for Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

A shutdown would mean thousands of government employees would be required to stop working until an agreement is reached, and many government benefits delayed. But even with Mitch McConnell’s warning to his own party, some hardliners continue to delay progress.

Late on Sunday a group of hardline and moderate Republicans had reached agreement on a short-term stopgap spending bill, known as a “continuing resolution”, or CR, that could help McCarthy move forward on defence legislation.

The measure would keep the government running until the end of October, giving Congress more time to enact full-scale appropriations for 2024. The Politico website reported that the Heritage Foundation, an influential conservative thinktank, had thrown its weight behind the proposed CR.

But it remains unclear whether it can garner enough Republican support to pass the House. At least a dozen members came out against it or expressed scepticism. Matt Gaetz, a Florida congressman who has called for McCarthy’s removal, tweeted that the CR is “a betrayal of Republicans” while Majorie Taylor Greene of Georgia posted: “I’m a NO!”

The standoff poses the biggest threat to McCarthy in his eight months as the top House Republican as he struggles to unite a fractured caucus. On Tuesday Politico reported that he intends to come out fighting by putting the CR to a floor vote and daring his detractors to put themselves on the record by voting against it.

“That would set McCarthy & Co. up to blame those holdouts for undercutting the party’s negotiating hand with Democrats, ultimately leading to the Senate jamming the House with a shutdown-averting stopgap without any Republican concessions,” Politico wrote.

Last week McCarthy dared his opponents to hold a vote to remove him, reportedly telling them behind closed doors: “File the fucking motion!”

Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene at a lectern.
Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have opposed the continuing resolution. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

He also vowed to move forward this week on an $886bn fiscal 2024 defense appropriations bill, which stalled last week as hardliners withheld support to demand a topline fiscal 2024 spending level of $1.47tn – about $120bn less than what McCarthy and Biden agreed to in May.

McCarthy told Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures programme: “We’ll bring it to the floor, win or lose, and show the American public who’s for the Department of Defense, who’s for our military.” But in a fresh setback on Tuesday, McCarthy was forced to postpone a procedural vote on the measure to provide more time for negotiations.

The White House has already threatened to veto the defence bill. The resolution agreed upon on Sunday is also unlikely to succeed with Democrats and become law. It would impose a spending cut of more than 8% on agencies other than the defense department and Department of Veterans Affairs and includes immigration and border security restrictions but not funding for Ukraine.

Leah Greenberg, co-founder of the progressive group Indivisible and a former congressional aide, said: “You have a Republican party that is focused on advancing extremist policy instead of on doing the basic work of governing. Every Republican in the House is basically enabling this process by virtue of being unwilling to break with the extremists.

“What you’re seeing with McCarthy is his own intentions are irrelevant. He is simply caving to the most extreme folks within the caucus and they are driving the agenda.”

The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate have until 30 September to pass spending legislation that Joe Biden can sign into law to keep federal agencies afloat. With a 221-212 majority, McCarthy can afford to lose no more than four votes to pass legislation that Democrats unite in opposing.

Some members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, largely aligned with Donald Trump, are openly embracing a shutdown as a negotiating tactic to get their way on spending and conservative policy priorities.

Congressman Chip Roy, a Freedom Caucus member, last week described a shutdown as “almost” inevitable and warned: “We have to hold the line.”

Ultimately Republicans could be forced to move directly into negotiations with Senate Democrats on appropriations bills that could pass both chambers quickly and be signed into law by Biden.

But this could fuel calls for McCarthy to be ousted from hardline conservatives and others who have accused him of failing to keep promises he made to become speaker in January.

Kevin McCarthy, in order to become speaker of the House, handed out a slew of promissory notes. Those notes are all coming due

Bill Galston, former policy adviser to Bill Clinton

Congressman Ralph Norman, a Freedom Caucus member, told the Reuters news agency: “It’d be the end of his speakership.”

Adding to the chaos, McCarthy apparently sought to curry favour with the far right last week by announcing the opening of an impeachment inquiry into Biden despite no tangible evidence that the president has committed an impeachable offence.

On Tuesday he told reporters: “I never quit.” But his young speakership has never looked so vulnerable.

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “It’s obviously uncertain. My hunch is what we’re going to see is McCarthy’s going to want to pass something and he will probably be forced to make concessions that are unacceptable to Democrats and maybe some Republicans. So this is the beginning of a process, not the culmination of it.”

McCarthy only gained the speaker’s gavel in January after a tortuous 15 rounds of voting and hard bargaining with the far right. Bill Galston, a former policy adviser to Bill Clinton, said: “Kevin McCarthy, in order to become speaker of the House, handed out a slew of promissory notes. Those notes are all coming due at the same time and I don’t think he has enough political money in the bank to make good on the notes.

“He’s the Mr Micawber of Republican politics, just hoping that something will turn up.”