House Republicans

Kevin McCarthy Is Getting Desperate as Government Shutdown Looms

The House speaker proposed a stopgap funding bill that's likely to be dead on arrival in both chambers.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy arrives at the U.S. Capitol on September 18 2023 in Washington DC.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy arrives at the U.S. Capitol on September 18, 2023 in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy, desperate to avert a shutdown as he clings to his speakership, is teeing up a tentative stopgap measure to keep the government funded. But a continuing resolution between the Freedom Caucus and the Main Street Caucus—which includes extreme cuts—is not only a non-starter in the Democratically-held Senate; it appears McCarthy doesn’t even have enough votes to pass it through the chamber he controls. “For months, I have made it very clear that I will not be supporting a CR,” wrote Montana Republican Matt Rosendale. “And this week is no different.”

“A CR is a continuation of Nancy Pelosi’s budget and Joe Biden’s policies,” Rosendale added.

McCarthy has had a shaky grip on the gavel since January, when he made major concessions to the far-right to finally clinch the speakership on the fifteenth ballot. But this spending battle could be his biggest test yet, with a government shutdown looming at the end of this month. “They cannot govern,” as progressive Representative Pramila Jayapal told MSNBC’s Jen Psaki on Sunday. “What does that mean? It means the American people are ultimately going to lose.”

Under the proposed stopgap, which McCarthy wants to vote on this week, the government would remain open through the end of October—but with significant cuts to non-defense spending. It would also include a hardline border bill favored by the far-right. In other words, it’s got basically no chance with the Democrats, who have been calling for weeks on McCarthy to pursue a bipartisan path. “It is time to end the charade and get to work,” Democrat Rosa DeLauro, the ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement, noting that the proposal would include cuts to cancer research, policing, and aid to Ukraine.

But while the measure may be too extreme for Democrats, it’s not extreme enough for some Republicans—including Marjorie Taylor Greene, a top McCarthy ally. “I’m a NO,” the Georgia representative wrote Sunday.

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Overall, the math isn’t looking great for McCarthy: He can only afford four GOP holdouts if he doesn’t gain any Democratic support—and more than that have already said, definitively, they would oppose the resolution. “I will not support this 167 page surrender to Joe Biden,” as Florida Representative Matt Gaetz told 笔辞濒颈迟颈肠辞’蝉 Olivia Beavers. Then there’s the other numbers issue: If a single member files a motion to vacate, they could jeopardize his position—and it’s looking increasingly likely that those threats will materialize if he can’t control the chaos in his conference.

For now, the speaker remains defiant. “If you want to file a motion to vacate,” McCarthy reportedly said at a closed-door Republican meeting last week, “then file the fucking motion.” Of course, he can talk tough all he wants, but his actions throw his weakness into sharp relief. “Stop fighting each other,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said on ABC News This Week Sunday. “End the reckless, reprehensible Republican civil war. And let’s get to the business of the American people.”