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Happy Saturday evening.
Congress averted a government shutdown — for 45 days.
After a frantic week that saw the House and Senate on different planes of reality and the White House pretty much absent, Congress passed a bill today to fund the federal agencies at FY2023 levels until Nov. 17. The legislation reauthorizes the FAA and the national flood insurance program through the end of this year. There’s $16 billion for disaster relief accounts, too.
The House passed the continuing resolution 335-91. Ninety Republicans voted no, as did just one Democrat — Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley.
The Senate followed suit, voting 88-9 to approve the bill. But only after Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) held the bill up for several hours as he sought assurances the chamber would vote on additional Ukraine aid in the weeks ahead.
We’re going to use this rare Saturday evening edition to break down all of our reporting inside the House and Senate leadership, including in-depth analysis of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the future of Ukraine aid. There’s also some reporting on Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who pulled a fire alarm on the way to the House vote.
Thank you for reading.
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— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan, Heather Caygle, Andrew Desiderio, Mica Soellner and Max Cohen
On Kevin McCarthy’s past and future
Speaker Kevin McCarthy spent the last few weeks loudly declaring that House Republicans wouldn’t pass any government funding bill that didn’t include huge spending cuts and tough new provisions to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
McCarthy then moved a government funding bill Saturday without huge spending cuts and provisions to secure the border.
Depending on where you sit, McCarthy is either the “adult in the room,” as he put it, or he’s a treasonous turncoat who continues to abandon his party in the pursuit of easy political victories, as his hardline GOP conservatives claim.
What’s been reinforced over the past few weeks — most acutely in the last few days — is that McCarthy is a speaker who controls only roughly 200 Republican votes. He has a healthy number of GOP lawmakers who are completely aligned with his tactics, strategies, policy and politics.
But McCarthy also has a hardcore group of roughly two dozen or so Republican colleagues who think he is leading the party astray. This hasn’t changed since January, when they made him walk over hot coals to become speaker. And it doesn’t look like it’s changing anytime soon.
Much of the angst and opposition to the California Republican is personal. Some of the disagreements are tactical. And others are born out of the refusal of much of the House Republican Conference to acknowledge the tough political realities of divided government — that the House is the only place under Republican control in town. And that GOP control is tenuous.
Let’s be real: McCarthy had a brutal few weeks. Twenty-one Republicans voted against his proposed CR on Friday, which included border-security provisions and spending cuts. He failed to pass the Agriculture spending bill. And lost the floor votes on two rules, an embarrassing setback. Given that opposition, McCarthy was stuck without the ability to move any stopgap funding bill with Republican votes only.
At different times, McCarthy sent signals he’d never put a clean CR on the floor, or he’d put a clean CR on the floor, or he’d amend any Senate-approved CR with a GOP border-security package bill. Two of these options would’ve guaranteed a shutdown.
In sum, House Republicans — led by McCarthy and his leadership — descended into chaos. McCarthy didn’t seem bothered. But his leadership team made it clear privately that it was he – and he alone – that was steering the ship.
Sitting in the GOP Conference meeting Saturday morning, with the members chirping and warring with each other, McCarthy made the final decision that he was going to put the clean CR on the floor. McCarthy signaled he might do so on Friday night. He decided to go ahead this morning, although there was a serious downside here.
McCarthy had said a shutdown was untenable. And he felt it would be easier to convince Democrats to help him pass a bill before the government shut down. It was a roll of the dice, as one McCarthy-world source told us, because they had no idea whether Democrats would back the bill.
McCarthy worked behind the scenes to convince GOP senators to abandon their bipartisan stopgap funding proposal — which included $6 billion for Ukraine — for the House’s bill. More on that in a second.
But with McCarthy’s “adult” decision comes potential peril for the California Republican. In the end, he pushed a bill that, while getting the majority of the GOP, also drew 90 no votes from his own party. It seems likely he’ll face a motion to vacate in the coming weeks. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is on CNN’s “State of the Union” tomorrow, so we’re sure to hear more then.
If there’s one thing to note, it’s that McCarthy has turned much more combative in his rhetoric against hardline conservatives including Gaetz. Whether that strategy is productive or not remains to be seen.
“If someone wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” McCarthy said after the CR passed. “There has to be an adult in the room. I am going to govern with what is the best for this country. … I’m going to be a conservative that gets things done for the American public, and whatever that holds, so be it.”
It may be a bit premature to count on Democrats to bail him out.
“As much as he’s a good guy,” one House Democrat told us, “we’re going to exact 1,000 pounds of flesh” to save him from being overthrown.
What’s next: On Ukraine, McCarthy is again vowing to pair changes to border policy with Ukraine aid. But with half of the House GOP opposed to Ukraine aid, this is going to be incredibly difficult.
House Democratic leaders put out a statement late Saturday calling on McCarthy to advance a bill to the House Floor for an up-or-down vote that supports Ukraine. We’ll see.
House Republicans will also spend the next 45 days trying to pass FY2024 appropriations bills that have no chance of becoming law. The best thing McCarthy can hope for is that the Senate will negotiate with the House, but those negotiations will be messy.
The Senate’s spending bills include tens of billions of dollars more in spending and none of the “culture war” provisions favored by House Republicans. Congress will be on the brink of a shutdown once again. This time, it will be just before Thanksgiving.
— Jake Sherman, Max Cohen and Mica Soellner
THE SENATE GOP
Senate GOP overrules McConnell on CR, Ukraine
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked into the GOP conference lunch today prepared to make the case that the Senate needs to proceed with its bipartisan stopgap funding bill, which included $6 billion for Ukraine.
After making an impassioned plea for helping Ukraine and advancing the Senate’s short-term funding bill, the GOP leader was quickly overruled by his colleagues including Minority Whip John Thune and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso, according to multiple GOP senators.
Minutes later, McConnell announced to reporters that Republicans would deny Democrats the requisite votes to advance the Senate’s bipartisan CR. The substantive result of this was a show of support for Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republican leaders.
“This was not Mitch’s call,” one GOP senator told us.
“He was vastly outnumbered,” another said of McConnell.
A third GOP senator who, like others, was granted anonymity to candidly describe the meeting, added: “I think it shows Mitch is out of step with the conference.”
Thune’s willingness to object was particularly striking, this senator said, adding that the South Dakota Republican “wasn’t afraid to step up and say this is what he thought should happen.”
It was a stunning turnaround that raises doubts about McConnell’s influence over his conference — even though a strong majority of Senate Republicans still backs Ukraine and wants McConnell to stay on as their leader.
Interestingly, McCarthy told reporters on Saturday that he has been mostly dealing with Thune lately, not McConnell. But a source familiar with the matter said that Thune had made McConnell aware of the communications, and was not freelancing.
McConnell, who has taken to the Senate floor on a near-daily basis to push for more Ukraine funding, was making the case for cash for Kyiv until the very end in part because senior Biden administration officials warned him that it was absolutely essential, according to people familiar with the conversations.
Last weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan privately told McConnell that it would be impossible to sustain Ukraine’s fight against Russia for the next month and a half without additional funding. Not including more aid in the CR would impose significant financial and symbolic harm on Ukraine’s government, they warned.
But the House GOP leadership’s CR didn’t include any new assistance for Ukraine. It also didn’t include an extension of the Pentagon’s transfer authority for weapons and equipment, which could have at least provided a cushion.
McConnell was making the case for $6 billion in Ukraine funding — a relatively small amount compared to the $110 billion already spent by the United States on the war — to be left in the CR until the very last minute. By that point, it had become clear that including that funding would have led to a government shutdown, which would have severely disrupted the Pentagon’s efforts.
Faced with the possibility of a shutdown at midnight tonight, all but one House Democrat then voted for the House GOP-drafted package, and the Senate followed suit, even though many senators on both sides raised concerns about the future of Ukraine funding.
A White House official told us that they expect McCarthy to “bring a separate [Ukraine funding] bill to the floor shortly.”
McCarthy and McConnell will both have to balance the competing factions within their conferences if that happens. Half of the House GOP conference voted to strip Ukraine aid from an FY 2024 Defense funding bill earlier this week. And there’s a growing faction — a sizable minority — within the Senate GOP conference that doesn’t want to approve any more money for Ukraine.
More on that below.
— Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan
THE UKRAINE WAR
What’s next for Ukraine aid?
Funding for Ukraine was left out of the stopgap spending bill approved by Congress today even though big majorities in both chambers still want to send more money to the embattled U.S. ally.
This was done to ease the 45-day CR’s passage in the House especially, where Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces a growing number of rank-and-file Republicans who don’t want to spend more money on this bitter 18-month-old conflict.
But the issue is getting to be a tougher and tougher vote. And with the White House preparing to ask for tens of billions of dollars for Ukraine next month, this will become a major flashpoint.
So how is Congress going to continue funding Kyiv?
First and foremost, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) appeared to secure a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote on Ukraine aid in the near future. No specific timeline was laid out.
“Leader McConnell and I have agreed to continue fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine,” Schumer said ahead of the Senate’s vote.
Republicans who support Ukraine believe it’s easier for them politically to only have to take one vote on a large tranche of Ukraine aid, rather than vote in small increments. The White House is expected to send Congress a full-year supplemental request for Ukraine as soon as November.
“What I’m hearing from my Republican colleagues is that one vote is better than multiple votes,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told us. “[Congress’ support for Ukraine] gets lost in this political gamesmanship.”
But some Democrats are worried about the message it sends to U.S. allies and adversaries alike.
“I mean, we had a bipartisan majority in favor of Ukraine, but [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell] and others walked away from the deal that they had,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added.
Multiple Democrats, though, are skeptical that McCarthy will end up putting a standalone Ukraine funding bill on the floor.
“I think, as Leader Jeffries has talked about, again it shows the speaker’s word can’t be trusted,” added Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.).
“The speaker has said to [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and others that he would make sure they get the funding that they need,” Meeks added. “So it is up to the speaker to make sure he shows that he understands that Russia is watching, our NATO allies are watching. They know who the speaker is.”
House Democratic leaders released a statement Saturday saying they expect McCarthy will put a Ukraine funding bill on the floor “when the House returns.”
It should be noted that nearly every House and Senate Democrat ended up voting for the stopgap funding bill without Ukraine aid. But members of both parties were concerned about the optics of forcing a government shutdown over Ukraine aid.
“We should pass whatever keeps government open,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said. “I’ve been supportive of Ukraine funding… but we can’t shut down the U.S. government over funding to a foreign government, no matter how great the cause may be.”
One option being floated is for the Senate to use the House-passed bill providing $300 million Ukraine funding. That bill was passed as a show-of-confidence vote after the money was stripped out of the House GOP-drafted Defense spending bill. McCarthy has formally sent that bill over to the Senate, we’re told.
Several Democrats suggested to us that the Senate could amend this bill, add additional Ukraine funding and send it back to the House. McCarthy would then face a decision on whether to allow that bill to come up for a vote.
— Andrew Desiderio, John Bresnahan and Max Cohen
And then there’s Jamaal Bowman…
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) could face an ethics probe, criminal charges and even an expulsion attempt after he triggered a fire alarm earlier today as House Democrats were trying to delay a funding bill vote.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who said the House Ethics Committee should investigate the matter, told reporters he planned to talk to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries about the incident.
Bowman was caught on camera pulling a fire alarm in the Cannon House Office Building earlier Saturday. Bowman later told reporters he was rushing to get to a vote on the floor and thought “the alarm would open the door.” Sarah Iddrissu, Bowman’s chief of staff, said the New York Democrat “regrets any confusion.”
What resulted was a chaotic scene: The Cannon building was being evacuated with fire alarms blaring as House Democrats were scrambling to delay a vote on the stopgap funding bill that had been released by Republicans moments before.
Later in the day, after it was revealed that Bowman was behind the false alarm, some Republicans immediately began calling for his expulsion.
Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) is moving forward with a censure motion against Bowman, according to her office. Malliotakis, along with Reps. Mike Collins (R-Ga.), Scott Franklin (R-Fla.), Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), Carol Miller (R-W.Va.), Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) have co-sponsored that resolution.
Other House Republicans expressed interest in supporting that move.
“We need to move to expel him,” Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) told us.
Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) said expulsion is “something to consider” regarding Bowman, while Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) called his actions “irresponsible.”
Jeffries, who met with Bowman in his office after the incident, had little to say about the matter.
“I haven’t seen the video. Until I see the video, I have no further comment,” Jeffries said at a press conference Saturday afternoon.
Falsely pulling a fire alarm is a criminal misdemeanor in Washington, punishable by fine or jail time of up to six months.
— Heather Caygle and Mica Soellner
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images.
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