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Happy Friday morning.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached a deal to raise the debt limit back in May, they also set a “topline number” for all of the FY2024 spending bills. That would smooth the process of writing the 12 annual appropriations bills. There weren’t going to be any shutdowns or a massive omnibus bill written in secret by party leaders. It would be a return to the good ol’ days of regular order.
But instead, McCarthy has faced an ongoing backlash from the House Freedom Caucus that’s largely cost the GOP leadership control of the appropriations process during the last three months. And the Senate is having troubles of its own.
Despite ordering appropriators to draft the annual spending bills at a level more than $100 billion below that mandated under the Fiscal Responsibility Act — the Freedom Caucus demanded this when they blockaded the House floor back in June — McCarthy has only been able to pass one appropriations measure so far. GOP leaders were forced to send members home Thursday after conservatives balked at a procedural vote on the massive Defense bill — which virtually all House Republicans say they want to pass badly.
As we first reported in the Thursday AM edition, some Freedom Caucus members have been huddling with Republican Main Street Partnership members to try to work out a compromise. The potential deal would pair a short-term extension of government funding with billions of dollars in disaster relief and H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act. This would allow the Defense — and possibly the Homeland Security — bills to be passed by the House, even though there’s no way the Senate would go along with any House GOP-drafted CR or spending measure.
“We’ve been working very diligently having those talks, but right now, we’re still talking,” said Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a Freedom Caucus member involved in the discussions. “We’ll figure out where we land. It’s been very productive.”
Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the Defense cardinal on the House Appropriations Committee, was hopeful his bill could get a floor vote as soon as next week.
“That’s our intent,” Calvert told reporters as he left town. “We’ll just work out our differences and bring it to the floor.”
But Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), another veteran cardinal, was resigned to the possibility of an Oct. 1 shutdown.
“It seems like you always get some new people in that have got to touch the stove, which is kind of what is happening here,” Simpson said of GOP hardliners. “There are people who say the government could shut down and no one would notice. Really?”
And Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), top Democrat on the Appropriations panel, said House Republicans must recognize that the only way to resolve this situation will be to use the spending levels called for in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
“Let’s move to the budget agreement, which is what the Senate is doing,” DeLauro said. “I don’t know how long these folks are going to drag their feet. We gotta start to move ahead. You either have a CR or you shut the government down.”
Over in the Senate, the first three-bill minibus spending package was progressing smoothly all week until Thursday, when conservatives staged a rebellion.
After a blowout 91-7 vote to advance the package, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) objected to consideration of several amendments from members of both parties, arguing that the three-bill package should be split up and considered separately. The “minibus,” as it’s known, includes the Military Construction/VA, Agriculture, and Transportation/HUD spending bills.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, lamented that it was another wasted week on the Hill and criticized both Johnson and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“I’m dismayed that we’ve lost another week,” Collins told us. “I wish that Sen. Schumer had started last week on this bill. But now we’ve lost two weeks on the bill. We are exploring what can be done next to get on the bill.”
The Senate left for the week without breaking the impasse, and senators are scheduled to vote on a judicial nominee when they return to the Capitol on Monday evening.
This is a setback for the Senate, which was looking to assert itself as the adult in the room for the FY2024 appropriations process.
Here’s what we expect next week. The Senate will continue to try to strike an amendment deal. The House will try to pass a short-term funding agreement while working on individual bills. They’ll have less than two weeks to figure out how to fund the government.
— John Bresnahan and Andrew Desiderio
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Does the Freedom Caucus have a plan?
Let’s spend a minute talking about the House Freedom Caucus. We’ll say this about the HFC. They’re great at starting fights. But now, 15 days ahead of a possible government shutdown, the House Republican Conference is asking just what is the HFC’s plan to win a faceoff with the Senate and President Joe Biden over the FY2024 spending bills.
Their answer: That’s not our job.
Let’s be perfectly clear here. The reason Speaker Kevin McCarthy is in a bind is because the Freedom Caucus is threatening to vote against procedural motions to bring GOP-drafted bills to the floor.
The hardline conservatives also refuse to vote for a short-term measure to keep the government open for any period of time. The HFC claims McCarthy has broken promises on the issue that he made during the speaker election. McCarthy says that isn’t true.
But what we can say definitively is that the HFC looks ready to dive right back into a well-worn if ultimately futile tactic — shut down the government to see if they can exact some concessions from Democrats and the White House. The idea being that if the government shuts down, Democrats will give into Republican demands on issues such as the border.
“We’re going to have a shutdown,” said Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member. “It’s just a matter of how long.”
The weakness of this theory is that House Republicans are on an island — every other slice of the law-making branches of government disagrees with them. And since they’re the ones that usually shut down the government, they get blamed for the debacle.
Let’s review for a moment the recent history of government shutdowns. In 2013, House Republicans shut down the government for 16 days to defund Obamacare, despite the fact that then Speaker John Boehner opposed the tactic. They didn’t defund Obamacare.
In December 2018, House Republicans’ partially shut down the government to win approval of former President Donald Trump’s border wall. Then House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was opposed to the tactic. Trump folded 35 days into the crisis without extracting a single concession from Democrats on the wall.
Logic would dictate that the outcome this time won’t be different, that government shutdowns don’t work as a negotiating tactic. But the HFC hasn’t reached that conclusion. Not by a long shot.
Here’s how Norman put it to us Thursday:
Norman: “I disagree that we can’t get spending levels where we want.”
Punchbowl News: “Why do you think the president and the Senate will come your way?”
Norman: “I don’t.”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) offered a similar response — what the Senate and White House want doesn’t matter much to him.
“I can’t control the Senate or the president,” Biggs said. “I can only work in the House. That’s what I was elected to.”
To be sure, the HFC has now entered into conversations with the Republican Main Street Partnership to try to find a deal to unlock the House floor and pass some appropriations bills. Their idea is to pass a 30-day spending bill with H.R. 2 — a border security package Biden has said he’d veto. This won’t unlock much at all, but it may allow the House to take a position and then jam through some more spending bills.
But, at this point, some in the Freedom Caucus say that if there’s a shutdown, it’s all McCarthy’s fault anyway.
“If the speaker doesn’t show leadership and we don’t do our job, then the speaker owns it,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said of a possible shutdown.
Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy, policy director for the HFC, insists that shutdowns work.
“In 2013, for example, there was a significant positive reaction in the election the next year when we won 14 seats in the House and nine seats in the Senate and had the biggest Republican majority in history,” Roy said Thursday.
“Why? Because my former boss, Sen. Cruz, went down and fought Obamacare. And the American people saw that fight. They’re seeing us fighting for them right now when everybody else in this town is fighting for themselves.”
Roy didn’t talk about how the 2018-19 shutdown failed for Trump and the Republicans, nor how the earlier 1995-96 shutdowns helped reelect Bill Clinton.
There are those in the Freedom Caucus who think that Republicans would win a shutdown because Biden is somehow diminished. Here’s Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.):
“This is also a different dynamic in my view. Not just with the members here on the Hill, but also with the current occupant of the White House… He’s a terrible president. Plus he has no command of the bully pulpit… He is nowhere close to Trump, Obama or George W. Bush. It ain’t even close. The man can’t play and we all know it.”
McCarthy has vowed to keep members in session when they return next week until the crisis is resolved. We’ll see how that works out.
— Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan, Mica Soellner and Max Cohen
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Zelensky to visit the Hill amid GOP fissures on Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will make a high-profile visit to Capitol Hill next week amid fears that Congress won’t approve more funding for Kyiv.
As we scooped in the PM edition, Zelensky’s visit is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, following his trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
It couldn’t come at a more critical time for the Biden administration and the broader Western coalition. The Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive is slowly progressing, and Congress will soon consider the White House’s $24 billion request for additional military, economic and humanitarian aid.
Zelensky’s trip could be especially awkward for Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is seeking to use Ukraine aid as leverage to win concessions from the White House on border policy — a nod to his right flank, which is vehemently opposed to new Ukraine spending.
It’s an entirely different story in the Senate, where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are locking arms on Ukraine. For the past two weeks, McConnell has taken to the Senate floor on a daily basis to make the case for funding Ukraine, at times pushing back directly on arguments to the contrary from members of his own party.
Senate Republicans are largely backing McConnell and insisting that it should be a hard line in negotiations surrounding a stopgap government funding bill at the end of the month. Throughout Russia’s invasion, McConnell has been perhaps the most consistent voice in Washington on support for Ukraine.
“[McConnell is] trying to talk to everybody who is withdrawing or pulling back, including the American people, because support is, unfortunately, diminishing,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told us earlier this week. “He’s playing the role that really the president ought to be playing, of making the case and explaining to the American people why it’s in our interest to help the Ukrainians.”
Senators from both parties have said that if the House sends them a short-term funding bill that excludes Ukraine aid — as is likely — then the Senate would simply add it and send the bill back to the House. McCarthy has indicated that he wouldn’t take up such a measure.
So Zelensky’s visit could be crucial in potentially pressuring McCarthy to buck the Freedom Caucus and agree to put a significant Ukraine aid package on the floor in conjunction with a short-term funding bill.
— Andrew Desiderio
THE MAJORITY MAKERS
Vasquez, vulnerable N.M. Democrat, to launch reelection bid next week
Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.), a frontline Democrat who flipped a red seat in 2022, is launching his reelection campaign this weekend. Vasquez’s seat will be one of the most competitive in the country this cycle and the freshman is a top GOP target.
Vasquez is gearing up for a rematch against former Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.). Vasquez defeated Herrell in 2022 by less than a point. In a sign of how important the seat is for national Republicans, Speaker Kevin McCarthy rallied with Herrell in April when she announced another bid for office.
In an interview Thursday, Vasquez said he would focus on traversing all over the vast 2nd District during his kickoff event.
“We’re going to start in Albuquerque, go down to Socorro, and then travel down to Las Cruces,” Vasquez said. “My constituents want to see a Congress that’s functioning and a member that’s going to focus on New Mexico, and that’s what my whole motto is.”
Vasquez said he will focus on the community funding projects he’s secured for his district, in addition to drawing a contrast with Herrell’s time in office.
“The most important thing that you can do is show up and that’s what my opponent didn’t do,” Vasquez said.
In a preview of GOP attacks, NRCC spokesperson Delanie Bomar accused Vasquez of “coddling criminals and attacking energy production.”
“Hopefully Gabe enjoys his reelection announcement party — it’s the last one he’ll have as a congressman,” Bomar added.
— Max Cohen
PRESENTED BY APOLLO
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11:45 a.m.: President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
1 p.m.: Karine Jean-Pierre and Jake Sullivan will brief.
6:25 p.m.: Biden will leave for Delaware.
“U.A.W. Goes on Strike Against Detroit’s Big 3 Automakers,” by Neal Boudette
“Choosing Security Over Rights, U.S. Approves $235 Million in Egypt Aid,” by Michael Crowley in D.C. and Vivian Yee in Cairo
“China’s Defense Minister Being Removed From Post, U.S. Officials Say,” by Chun Han Wong in Singapore, Lingling Wei in New York and Nancy A. Youssef in D.C.
“Hunter Biden’s lawyer accuses House Republicans of ‘congressional manipulation,’” by Betsy Woodruff Swan
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images.
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