6 min read

Here we go again

Kevin McCarthy faces a rebellion from conservative hardliners. Sound familiar?
Here we go again
House conservatives at a press conference. (House Freedom Caucus)

We are now 12 days away from government funding running out, and lawmakers appear no closer to averting a shutdown.

Republican leaders unveiled a one-month stopgap measure Sunday night, which would keep the government funded through October 31. During that time, under the proposal, government spending would be reduced by 8.125% across the board — except for defense, veterans, and disaster relief spending, which would be maintained at current levels. You can read the full proposal here.

The continuing resolution (known on the Hill as a “CR”) also includes provisions from the Secure the Border Act, a GOP bill passed by the House in May that would increase the number of border patrol officers, require the border wall to be completed, and impose new limits on asylum seekers.

The CR was put together by members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, initially giving GOP leaders hope that the deal had buy-in from across the party’s ideological spectrum.

But within a matter of minutes, the deal had fallen apart.

After Utah Rep. Chris Stewart resigned last week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy can only afford to lose four Republican votes on any party-line piece of legislation. By the end of the day on Sunday, double that amount of Republicans had already come out against the funding compromise:

  1. North Carolina’s Dan Bishop (“No CR”)
  2. Tennesee’s Tim Burchett (“I’m a no until further notice”)
  3. Arizona’s Eli Crane (“NO”)
  4. Florida’s Matt Gaetz (“We must do better”)
  5. Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene (“I’m a NO”)
  6. Florida’s Anna Paulina Luna (“I’m a no”)
  7. Florida’s Cory Mills (“I’m a HARD NO”)
  8. Montana’s Matt Rosendale (“I will be voting against”)

A slew of other conservatives also appear to be leaning against the legislation, including Texas’ Tony Gonzales, South Carolina’s Ralph Norman, Tennessee’s Andy Ogles, and Indiana’s Victoria Spartz.

If that list sounds familiar, it’s probably because these members more or less make up the bulk of the Taliban 20 (as one congressman memorably dubbed them), the group of conservatives who forced McCarthy to go through 15 rounds of voting at the beginning of the year before he could claim the speaker’s gavel.

As McCarthy heads into a critical week, last night’s developments are another reminder of how he has only grown weaker since then. His own members didn’t even wait for the ink to dry before spurning his funding deal, a measure of disrespect that previous speakers likely wouldn’t have tolerated.

“This deal is gone faster than a toupee in a hurricane,” one House Republican told Politico.

What happens now?

Ever since the speaker balloting in January, McCarthy’s fights with House conservatives have taken on a familiar pattern: the rebels tend to get everything they ask for.

This time, though, it isn’t abundantly clear what they’re after. “I’m not quite sure what they want,” McCarthy said last week, exasperated, a fairly stunning admission from a speaker about his own members.

Several of the GOP defectors have ruled out supporting any CR, saying they will a oppose stopgap bill that inherently maintains the status quo set by last year’s Democratic-controlled Congress (even with an 8% haircut). “Pass the damn approps bills,” Bishop tweeted, referring to the standard process of funding the government through the 12 individual appropriations bills.

Except... Bishop and his compatriots are the same lawmakers holding up the House appropriations bills, insisting they aren’t conservative enough. (McCarthy was forced to postpone a vote on his defense appropriations bill just last week.) And then, of course, there’s the Democratic-led Senate, which is sure to reject any of the GOP-authored approps bills, as well as this proposed CR if it were to make it through.

As with the debt ceiling fight, passing a party-line measure through the House could help strengthen McCarthy’s hand in his eventual battle with the Senate, showing that his conference is united behind an initial bargaining position. Despite the opposition expressed last night, doing so is probably possible: in past showdowns, the conservatives have reliably acquiesced to McCarthy if he’s offered enough concessions. Even a “HARD NO” is rarely as firm as it seems.  

Still, this means McCarthy has grown so desperate that he’ll be spending the next week pulling teeth — and expending his shrinking political capital — on a bill that’s doomed for failure.

The more concessions he offers to conservatives — defunding Jack Smith’s probe, maybe, or banning future Ukraine aid — the less likely it is that the Senate will accept anything resembling the House CR. If the CR does pass, a bipartisan Senate majority will merely send it back to the House with the conservative priorities stripped out, and with new Ukraine funding added in.  

At that point, McCarthy will have a choice to make: hold a vote on the Senate CR, or plunge the government into a shutdown. If he chooses Option 1 — or any bipartisan compromise along those lines — he’ll almost certainly face a vote on whether he can keep his job. (As a result of his January concessions, it only takes one member to trigger a vote on ousting McCarthy as speaker. Gaetz has promised to do so under this scenario.) At that point, McCarthy will likely be at the mercy of House Democrats, who could help him reach the 218-vote majority he needs to keep the gavel if he works with them on a CR.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries has refused to speculate on whether his caucus would come to McCarthy’s rescue. “If that moment presents itself, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he told ABC News on Sunday.

McCarthy has pledged to keep the House in session until a solution to fund the government is reached. “It’s a good thing I love a challenge,” he said this morning. “Because every day is going to be a challenge.”

Thanks for reading WUTP as we start another chaotic week in Washington. Help me pass my own continuing resolution by donating to support the newsletter or telling your friends to subscribe.

What else to watch this week.

The government spending fight will take up most of Washington’s attention this week. Here’s what else will be on the agenda:

  1. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky will visit D.C. on Thursday, sitting down with President Biden at the White House and holding a meeting with all 100 senators. He will exhort lawmakers to continue aiding Ukraine, at the same time as that assistance is emerging as a key dividing line in the spending showdown.  
  2. Biden will spend the first half of the week in New York City for the annual UN meeting. He’ll address the general assembly on Tuesday; the main meeting on his calendar is a Wednesday sit-down with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s team is reportedly disappointed that Biden opted to meet with him on the sidelines of the UN, not as a standalone meeting at the White House.
  3. The United Auto Workers (UAW) strike against the “Big Three” automakers is continuing for a fourth day, with no end in sight. Biden has dispatched top officials to aid in the negotiations, hoping to stave off an economic disaster.

More news to know.

Hunter Biden is suing the IRS.

Five Americans were freed by Iran this morning as part of a broader prisoner swap.

The Texas Senate voted to acquit state Attorney General Ken Paxton of impeachment charges.

The Senate is changing its dress code to accommodate hoodie-wearing John Fetterman.

The day ahead.

Biden: The president is in New York City in advance of the UN General Assembly. He’ll participate in two campaign fundraisers tonight.  

Harris: The VP has nothing on her public schedule.

Senate: The upper chamber will vote to advance Vernon Oliver’s nomination to be a U.S. district judge in Connecticut.

House: The lower chamber will vote on several veterans bills, as well as a measure to aid Native American children.

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