Congress returns to Washington with less than five days to find an agreement that will avert a government shutdown but former President Donald Trump urged Republicans to dig in, insisting that President Joe Biden will take the blame if they close the country.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), faced with myriad demands from his hard-right flank, has been unable to unite his conference on a short-term path forward that would both appease the hard-liners and ensure he keeps his leadership position.
Meanwhile, the Senate is moving ahead with a short-term solution, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, by advancing a shell bill that can eventually house an expected bipartisan deal.
That plan is probably dead on arrival in the House unless Democrats and moderate Republicans tack it onto a vehicle that wouldn’t need leadership’s explicit approval for a floor vote.
Even that course of action could cause McCarthy significant headaches, underscoring the complexity of the debate over policy and procedure that has upended the House Republican Conference for several weeks.
By the end of the week, McCarthy could have to make a defining decision: Either put an expected bipartisan Senate stopgap bill on the House floor and risk his speakership, or withhold scheduling a vote on the Senate proposal and side with hard-right legislators in triggering a government shutdown, according to several lawmakers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the inner workings of the conference.
McCarthy is unlikely to bring the eventual Senate proposal up for a vote because it would require Democratic support to pass, according to multiple Republican aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party dynamics.
Members on the hard right, including many within the staunchly conservative House Freedom Caucus, have said that relying on Democrats to move the bill would probably result in a Republican lawmaker filing a motion to remove McCarthy from his speakership.
A small but significant number of moderate GOP lawmakers are plotting a path toward potentially working with Democrats to fund the government past Sept. 30 and combat a shutdown.
At least three Republicans — Reps. Mike Lawler (N.Y.), Don Bacon (Neb.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) — have expressed an openness to joining Democrats in signing a discharge petition, a mechanism to force a vote on a measure against the wishes of the Speaker.
Four members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus introduced a bill Friday that reflects the group’s framework for a short-term stopgap funding measure. Fitzpatrick suggested Sunday that lawmakers could use a discharge petition to compel a vote on that legislation.
Five Republicans would need to join their party’s leaders in order to force action with Democrats.
Members of two other centrist blocs — the Republican Governance Group and New Democrat Coalition — have also been in touch about other ways to keep the government open, including through a continuing resolution, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Signing an opposing party’s discharge petition would be an act of political mutiny, so the increased public conversation — and support — surrounding the break-the-glass option underscores the pressure lawmakers are under as they race to prevent an end-of-month shutdown after the House GOP flailed on multiple spending fronts last week.
The talk of working with Democrats also reflects the struggle the GOP Speaker has had in quelling turmoil within his fractious conference.
Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline for passing a government-funding bill, and the impasse has been in the House, where Republicans have not been able to agree amongst themselves over a strategy to keep the government from closing, or over how to fund it.
Republicans in similar shutdowns have ended up taking the public relations hit in polls when the government has closed after battles between GOP Speakers and their rank-and-file memberships, but Trump insisted that this time it would be Biden who would be blamed.
“The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be blamed for the Budget Shutdown,” Trump wrote in a Truth Social post. “Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed, in this case, Crooked (as Hell!) Joe Biden! ur Country is being systematically destroyed by the Radical Left Marxists, Fascists and Thugs – THE DEMOCRATS.”
Trump urged GOP members to dig in on their demands, arguing that unless they “get everything,” lawmakers should “shut it down.”
“Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of ‘Justice,’ and End Election Interference – WE MUST HAVE HONEST ELECTIONS. It’s time Republicans learned how to fight!” Trump continued.
Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year to raise the debt ceiling, when Biden capitulated on spending ceilings for the next fiscal year, but House conservatives have argued that deeper cuts should be made to spending.