House GOP Seeks to Regroup After Continuing Resolution, DoD Bill Fizzle
WASHINGTON — You could tell Capitol Hill was bristling Thursday morning, even before you got within 100 yards of the Capitol building itself.
Walking up First Street SE, past Bullfeathers, the popular Capitol Hill eatery, an indistinct conversation between passersby — two men in casual business attire — suddenly came into focus as one turned to the other and said, “If you ask me, McCarthy is done,” a reference to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
A short distance later, in front of the Capitol Hill Club, the social club for members of the Republican Party, a well-groomed, gray-haired man in a blue suit was carrying on loudly about what would turn out to be the final vote on the rule allowing floor discussion of a continuing resolution aimed at averting a government shutdown.
“I’m telling you I don’t understand how five members can hold the whole conference hostage,” he said with such conviction that one could imagine him, in another time and place, taking off and tossing a cowboy hat into the dust of some unpaved town.
“Why, it’s unconstitutional,” he said.
“Don’t we still have a constitution?” he asked no one in particular.
Hours later, McCarthy and his inner circle would abandon plans to take up a stopgap funding measure again this week. They did so after it became clear the rule, a procedural mechanism to begin floor debate on legislation, would not garner enough votes to pass.
Near the steps on the House side of the Capitol, a phalanx of reporters and camera operators surrounded Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.
“We need to abandon the theory that liberating ourselves from government-by-continuing-resolution requires the passage of a continuing resolution,” Gaetz said.
“CRs are like Lay’s potato chips. You never seem to be able to stop with just one,” he continued. “Like with this vote this morning, on this gateway continuing resolution they want to pass; they’re already indicating we might need to pass another one if we can’t get everything done that we need to do.
“That is just the muscle memory of this town for the last seven years. I’m sick of it,” Gaetz said.
“In January, we said we were going to this place. And you know what? Things might get worse before they get better,” he said. But if they do, then that’s the fault of a failed speaker and a failed appropriations process.
“I mean, I heard a rumor last night, as we were trying to sort out the details of our spending bill, that people on the Appropriations Committee were leaving to go to special interest fundraisers,” Gaetz added. “Think about it: Lobbyists picking up checks while we’re trying to get a balanced budget for this country. It’s disgusting.”
As it became clear that there were at least five Republican holdouts — with four votes being all McCarthy could stand to lose — the plan shifted to trying to pass single-subject spending bills for each of the 11 remaining funding areas that have yet to be decided.
Passing each individually, Gaetz said, would provide the House with a better bargaining position when it comes time to for conference talks to reconcile differences between House and Senate bills.
“I’ve always said I’m willing to negotiate with Democrats through the paradigm of single-subject spending bills,” he said. “The problem is, the moment we do a continuing resolution, it relegates all the appropriations work we’ve done to political theater, because the Senate will just ignore it.
“So yeah, I want to sit down with Democratic senators, Republican senators, and say, ‘Let’s talk about the Department of Defense.’ And then in a separate discussion, ‘Let’s talk about the Department of Education, or the EPA, or the DOJ, or the Department of Labor,’” he said. “We’ll still have to compromise on some things, of course, but we don’t have to compromise by taking one vote on all of these disparate agencies at once in a continuing resolution; we could do it going line by line, agency by agency, program by program.”
The first bill teed up, on Thursday morning, was the fiscal year 2024 Defense appropriations measure, which already failed to reach the House floor twice before.
On Thursday a measure to begin floor consideration of the bill went down to defeat 212-216, with Republican Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Eli Crane of Arizona, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and Matt Rosendale of Montana all casting no votes.
Speaking not far from where Gaetz had addressed reporters, Greene, an ally of McCarthy, explained she voted no, in part, because the Defense bill continued to include another $300 million for Ukraine military assistance.
“What I’ve been very clear about from the beginning is that we should take the Ukraine money out of the Defense bill and put it in a separate funding bill so that members like me can vote no, while other members can vote yes if they want. It’s the easiest thing to do,” she explained.
The issue that caused Greene’s stunning break — as recently as Tuesday she had supported advancing the Defense bill to the floor — was not resolved on Thursday.
In the afternoon, House Republican leaders informed members that no more votes would be taken Thursday and that the chamber would recess subject of the call of the chair.
As is typical in such circumstances, members were told they should make plans tentatively and be ready to come back and vote should anything be added to the schedule through the weekend.
Such a vote became more likely Friday when McCarthy granted Greene’s wish to have the $300 million for Ukraine excised from the Defense spending bill and set for a stand-alone vote.
But the victory was bittersweet for the Georgia congresswoman, who suggested “this should have happened weeks ago.”
According to those privy to GOP discussions over the past 24 hours, the plan now is to trim about $60 billion from the existing 2024 fiscal plan, though Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs will be left unscathed.
Rep. Robert Good, R-Va., told reporters he thinks the “intense” debate over the continuing resolution and the Defense bill have been “very constructive and healthy.”
“I think it’s important that we discuss how past spending practices are destroying our country and what it will take to reverse them,” he said.
Good went on to say that these discussions should have occurred before the August district work session.
“That was a failure of leadership. We should not be in a position where we’re discussing this under the threat of a shutdown,” he said.
It’s likely one of the few areas that Good and his Democratic colleague, Abigail Spanberger, also of Virginia, agree on.
“It’s irresponsible that year after year we find ourselves in a place where what should have been debated in April or May, is still being fought over in September. Once you get into a situation where there are threats of a potential government shutdown, then the brinkmanship comes into place and people start playing partisan politics, and in fact internal politics,” she said.
Of course, there is still a threat of a partial government shutdown if the fiscal bills aren’t passed by Sept. 30.
While Good maintains there’s nothing to fear about a brief shutdown, saying it would have minimal, if any impact on ordinary Americans due to the fact many government operations continue when a shutdown occurs, Spanberger maintains the ripple effect on communities that have large numbers of residents working for the government could be devastating.
“As far as I’m concerned, shutdown is basically using the folks in my district, the federal workers and contractors and small business owners, as pawns,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to happen.
“If the bill that’s ultimately voted on can ultimately receive bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and get to the president’s desk, I think there are the votes for the bill,” she said. “The question is what Speaker McCarthy will bring to the table.”
Among those watching the whole thing play out with a jaundiced eye is Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
“There really isn’t any leadership,” she said as she stood beside a waiting car just before lunchtime on Thursday.
“You have to provide direction. You have to try being a leader, as difficult as that may be; you have to be willing to talk about what you can do and what you can’t,” she said. “It doesn’t appear that’s been happening this week.”
DeLauro, a close friend and ally of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recalled being on the House floor when important legislation was being considered and the speaker found herself one or two votes short of what she needed.
“She had the strength and the leadership and the courage to sit and talk with people and work through whatever had to get done,” DeLauro said.
She went on to recall last December, when there were widespread concerns a shutdown would occur around Christmas.
“People would ask, ‘Do you think there’s going to be a government shutdown?’ And you’ll remember, I kept saying, ‘No.’ Now, why was that? I knew we didn’t have House Republicans with us, but we had Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., [the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee], who wanted to come to an agreement, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., [the chairman of the Appropriations Committee], who wanted to come to an agreement, and I wanted to get it done, so we got it done.
“If you put this process in the hands of actual appropriators, we’ll get it done,” DeLauro said. “But as far as I can tell, there have been little or no appropriation staff engaged in any of these efforts.”
Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., appeared to be thoroughly frustrated as he came down the steps of the Capitol Thursday. Stopping amidst a throng of reporters thrusting cellphones toward him, he said, “As for some of my colleagues, they have to come to a realization that if they are unable or unwilling to govern, others will.
“In a divided government, with Republicans in control of the House and Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, there needs to be a realization that you’re not going to get everything you want. Just throwing a temper tantrum and stomping your feel is wrong, and it’s pathetic,” Lawler said.
“At the end of the day, any final [spending] bill is going to be bipartisan, and anybody that doesn’t realize that is just fooling themselves,” he continued.
“Yes, House Republicans were elected by the American people to serve as a check and balance on this administration and to rein in the reckless policies that this administration has pursued over the past two years … but as I said earlier this week, it does not serve any purpose to say, ‘We’re going to save the American people money when it’s going to end up costing them more due to a shutdown.’
“It really is illogical,” Lawler said. “So I think what you have here is a handful of people who are choosing to be obstinate for one reason or another, some of it personal, while the vast majority of Republicans are here to do our jobs and to govern.
“We’ll get there,” he predicted. “Even if we have to bring them kicking and screaming.”
A lingering question is where does McCarthy stand when all is said and done.
According to a report by London’s Daily Mail newspaper, a resolution from Gaetz seeking to vacate McCarthy’s House speakership seat was found in a Capitol Hill bathroom on Wednesday.
The report says journalist Matt Laslo, who runs the independent Laslo Congressional Bureau, found the short motion on a baby changing table in a restroom beneath the House floor.
He posted images on social media of the single sheet of paper folded in half next to a cup of coffee.
The motion was “declaring the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives to be vacant,” and included a draft date of September 15, 2023, at 11:22 a.m. — just three days after McCarthy announced the opening of the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
Asked about the possible filing of a motion to vacate, Gaetz said, “My principle goal leading up to today was killing the continuing resolution … and funding for Ukraine. I was successful in that.
“Now my goal is to ensure that there is no continuing resolution that embraces this paradigm that has left the American people down for years. So I’m not [building] a coalition right now for the motion to vacate.
“Whether or not a motion to vacate happens or doesn’t happen remains entirely in the hands of Speaker McCarthy,” he added. “It’s not something that we just put on a shelf to admire. We actually intend to use it if there’s not compliance with the deal [we made with him] in January.”