In a stunning reversal, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Saturday passed a 45-day stopgap funding bill with the help of more than 200 Democrats, averting a government shutdown at the last minute.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, includes none of the GOP’s spending cuts or border policies. The only addition: $16 billion for disaster aid sought by the White House.
Just hours before a potential government shutdown, moderate Republicans reached a deal with Democrats in the House on a new continuing resolution that will keep the government open for 45 days at current spending levels. It also adds money for U.S. disaster relief but none of the billions of dollars for Ukraine that the White House has sought.
McCarthy’s move came after weeks of refusing to consider a clean continuing resolution (CR), despite pressure from rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats alike. But with a shutdown deadline looming and his party facing the prospect of a humiliating defeat, McCarthy was forced to relent.
The vote capped a frenetic day in the House, where almost no lawmakers headed to the Capitol on Saturday morning had any hope for bipartisan dealmaking. But McCarthy shocked his party — and most on the Hill — by deciding to put a “clean” bill on the floor that could be enough to doom his speakership.
“If someone wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” McCarthy told reporters after the vote, daring his opponents to force a vote on his speakership as a result.
This was the second attempt by the House to pass a stopgap bill in recent days. On Friday afternoon, the House failed to pass a GOP-led continuing resolution that would have funded the government until Oct. 31. All Democrats and 21 Republicans voted against the measure, which included steep cuts to social programs.
Trying to placate the right, McCarthy proposed stopgap funding bills with proposed cuts that would have cut most domestic programs by 30 percent, as GOP leaders tried desperately to unify their caucus around a proposal to head off a government shutdown after months of internal dysfunction.
The House GOP extremists wanted to gut a portion of the federal budget that funds safety net programs, medical research, nutrition assistance, housing subsidies, and much more but McCarthy ended up capitulating to the Democratic-controlled White House and Senate.
His move sent Democrats scrambling on Saturday to scrub the bill for unsavory add-ins while spending multiple hours on delay tactics. Ultimately, most Democrats backed the bill, though House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) did not formally whip his members either way.
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.) said he had no clue there would be a path avoiding a shutdown when he arrived in the building that morning.
“I had no idea because they’re clearly dysfunctional and unpredictable,” Meeks said. “I think finally, it’s what we wanted — to not have a shutdown.”
Many Republicans started off Saturday unsure whether they would get the Democratic support they needed for any stopgap bill. As the day went on, though, they saw a way out of what seemed to all of Washington like an inevitable shutdown.
“It is our obligation to anticipate and do as much as we can to mitigate” a government closure, said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who had long called for a clean bill. “This is the art of the possible.”
To actually avert a shutdown, though, the Senate still needs to act. Such a move would require unanimous consent from all 100 senators, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he thought the GOP would allow it.
“If the House passes a clean CR and it doesn’t have all that new Ukraine money in it? I will give my consent to let them speed up the process and have a vote on it this afternoon. I think our caucus leans in that direction,” Paul said. “I think it comes over here and we get consent to pass it over here and maybe done this afternoon.”
McCarthy’s decision to pass a clean CR is a major victory for Democrats and a major setback for the far-right wing of the Republican Party.
It also raises questions about McCarthy’s future as speaker, given that he was forced to defy his right flank in order to avoid a shutdown.
It is not known whether McCarthy can survive this latest challenge to his leadership but the last-minute surrender by House Republicans is a sign of just how divided the GOP has become.