WASHINGTON — Congress avoided a government shutdown this past weekend, but the turmoil on Capitol Hill is expected to continue this week and the stopgap measure approved by lawmakers is by no means a permanent fix.
The short-term funding bill approved by Congress and signed by President Biden over the weekend expires on Nov. 17, and there’s no guarantee lawmakers in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate will come to an agreement on how to fund the federal budget before that deadline.
The path to an agreement could be made even more difficult if Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, succeeds in his attempt to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, from his leadership post. Gaetz said on Sunday that he would file a “motion to vacate,” a measure that would force a vote on McCarthy’s leadership this week. That type of procedural move has not resulted in a speaker removal vote since 1910.
McCarthy responded defiantly, telling CBS News he’ll survive any attempt to remove him.
That survival may depend on Democratic support.
House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, told House Democrats on Sunday that “votes related to the (motion to vacate) could occur at any time, including Monday.”
“If this occurs, we will have a Caucus wide discussion on how to address the motion to best meet the needs of the American people,” Clark said in her “dear colleague” letter. “Please ensure that your schedule remains flexible so that you may be present for these important votes should they occur.”
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District, a member of the centrist, bipartisan Problem Solver’s Caucus, was the first House member to say Democrats could consider protecting McCarthy from an effort to oust him. Phillips made that suggestion in June, when McCarthy was negotiating with Biden over legislation that would raise the debt ceiling.
A simple majority could oust McCarthy from his post. Democrats would not have to necessarily vote in favor of McCarthy but could simply lower the threshold by voting “present” or not voting at all in the narrowly split U.S. House. They could also back a measure to “table,” or reject, the motion to vacate.
Yet any lifeline Democrats might tender would come at a price, and many Democrats are angry that McCarthy launched a polarizing impeachment inquiry into Biden last week.
Phillips, meanwhile, stepped down from his post as co-chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Caucus on Sunday. He had been criticized by fellow Democrats for threatening to run against Biden, whom Phillips has said is too old to run for reelection. Those comments about Biden’s age have given Republicans political ammunition, some of Phillips’ colleagues say.
“My convictions relative to the 2024 presidential race are incongruent with the majority of my caucus, and I felt it appropriate to step aside from elected leadership to avoid unnecessary distractions during a critical time for our country,” Phillips said in a statement.
In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Phillips said, “I was not pressured or forced to resign.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy plans to use the time given by the stop-gap measure the House approved House this weekend to move spending bills through the chamber. But those bills would not avert a shutdown because their reduced spending levels — and conservative policy riders — would not be accepted by the U.S. Senate.
Nevertheless, McCarthy showed steely determination this weekend to keep the government open and a willingness to use surprising tactics.
“I like to gamble,” he said.
Frustrated that ultraconservative members of the Freedom Caucus had thwarted his attempt to approve a short-term spending bill with only GOP votes, McCarthy finally gave up after Majority Whip Tom Emmer, R-6th District, told him there was no way to do so, no matter what was offered.
So, McCarthy turned to a short-term bill, known as a continuing resolution, that gave House Democrats almost everything they wanted: continued funding of the federal government at existing levels, instead of the 30% cut in domestic programs sought by GOP hardliners. The short-term bill also contains money for disaster aid and has none of the border measures Freedom Caucus members had insisted upon.
The only nod to some of his House Republican colleagues was that McCarthy did not include in the bill any Ukraine aid, an issue that has split GOP lawmakers.
All eight of Minnesota’s House members — four Democrats and four Republicans — voted for the continuing resolution, which quickly passed the U.S. Senate and was rushed to Biden for his signature late Saturday.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th District, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, said she was concerned the resolution failed to contain any money for Ukraine. But she said she voted for it — as did nearly every House Democrat — because “a clean 45-day Continuing Resolution that keeps government open and does not cut essential services to American families and communities was the only solution to ending extremist Republican chaos and obstruction.”
“With this current crisis avoided, it is clear that the only long-term solution is for Speaker McCarthy and House Republicans to work in a bipartisan fashion with Democrats on an Appropriations process that funds the government for a full year — just like Democrats did last Congress and have been saying for months. If House Republicans fail to do so, we will have a repeat of this funding crisis in November,” McCollum added.
Rep. Pete Stauber, R-8th District, said he would have preferred a bill rejected by a group of fellow Republicans — and all Democrats — that would have cut domestic programs and include tough border measures.
“What the House and Senate passed … was the best remaining option,” Stauber said. “I supported this bill so the government will remain open, and our troops and border patrol agents will get paid while providing Congress with more time to finish our work and pass fiscally responsible government funding bills.”