Congress late Saturday averted a government shutdown with just hours to spare after Speaker Kevin McCarthy abandoned hopes of uniting his party, turning instead to Democrats for help.
Hard-right House Republicans have many times threatened to oust McCarthy for leaning on Democrats. The question now is whether this latest maneuver will cost him his speaker’s gavel.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said Sunday he would move to remove McCarthy from his speakership this week. It’s unclear if Gaetz has enough support to actually take McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, out.
“If at this time next week, Kevin McCarthy is still speaker of the House, it will be because the Democrats bailed him out,” Gaetz said on ABC News, “and he can be their speaker, not mine.”
“I’ll survive,” McCarthy told CBS News after. “You know, this is personal with Matt.”
On Saturday, 209 Democrats and 126 Republicans in the House of Representatives supported a last-minute measure to push off a government shutdown through Nov. 17.
Several hours later, the Senate agreed, with all lawmakers minus nine Republicans voting for it. President Joe Biden signed the continuing resolution into law before the midnight deadline when the government was expected to run out of money.
Congress will still need to pass, and the president must sign, spending measures by mid-November to fund federal agencies for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, 2024, or risk another shutdown.
Over the past few weeks, the House Freedom Caucus repeatedly refused to back short-term efforts to avert a shutdown that didn’t incorporate steep cuts and more border security provisions. But those demands wouldn’t pass a Democratic-held Senate, which needed to approve an identical measure.
Until Saturday, it seemed highly likely that the government would shut down Oct. 1.
Instead of trying to enlist hard-right support, McCarthy presented a short-term fix Saturday that Democrats were more comfortable with.
“If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public,” McCarthy told reporters before the House vote Saturday, “I will do that.”
The 48-day funding extension offers $16 billion in supplemental funding for disaster relief and does not make any of the significant cuts that GOP hardliners wanted.
Ninety House Republicans and one Democrat, Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago, Ill., voted against it.
The plan lacks funding for Ukraine, which Democrats had desired. Lawmakers are working on a separate measure for it: House Democrats released a statement Saturday evening requesting McCarthy bring a bill to the floor; Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle said they would work to pass legislation aiding Ukraine.
Immediately after the House passed the spending resolution, it adjourned until Monday. Gaetz, a Republican who has long said he wants to oust McCarthy, was seen trying to call for another action, but was too late.
After the House vote, McCarthy said, “If somebody wants to make a motion against me, bring it. There has to be an adult in the room.”
As part of his deal in January to become speaker, McCarthy agreed to let any single lawmaker call for a vote to oust him. A majority of the House would have to offer their vote of no confidence to remove him.
The House is split with 221 Republicans to 212 Democrats — a problem for McCarthy if enough of the GOP wanted him gone. It would force him, once again, to look for Democrats for help.
While Democrats voted to avoid default earlier this year and a shutdown Saturday, they might not be willing to save McCarthy’s speakership. None voted for McCarthy during the 15 rounds it took for him to get the job and none voted “present” to help lower the threshold of Republican support he needed.
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, reportedly told her Democratic colleagues not to rush to save McCarthy in a vote to oust him. Rather, POLITICO reported, she recommended letting Republicans deal with their own drama.
In a bipartisan compromise to raise the debt ceiling in May, McCarthy required Democratic support. In that vote too, more Democrats than Republicans voted for the measure. No one called for a motion to vacate at that time.
Who could replace McCarthy? The logical successor would be Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana. He’s adored by conservatives and respected by moderates. But he’s also battling multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
Next in line would be Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, then New York Rep. Elise Stefanik.
If the GOP wanted to turn to a committee chair — as it did in 2015 when it elevated Paul Ryan of the Ways and Means Committee — the chatter mostly revolves around Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, a physician and Army veteran who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Republicans have praised his work getting tough on border security and his tough-but-fair demeanor.
McCarthy’s Republican predecessors faced similar reckonings. House Speaker John Boehner resigned amid a 2015 funding battle that would have required him to rely on Democratic support to keep the gavel. Boehner, who became speaker in 2011, had already extended his tenure when he had not wanted to.
Ryan, who held the role from 2015 to 2019 — when McCarthy did not have the votes to succeed Boehner — decided he had enough in April 2018. Surprising many in his caucus, Ryan said he would not seek re-election; he wanted to spend more time with his children.