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Congress averts a shutdown. Now comes the hard part

First Read is your briefing from the NBC News Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Kevin McCarthy Capitol Hill
Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, on Capitol Hill during efforts to avert a government shutdown on Saturday. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images

Happening this Monday: President Biden celebrates Americans With Disabilities Act and then convenes Cabinet meeting at 4:30 pm ET… Trump expected to appear to court in New York fraud lawsuit… The late Dianne Feinstein lies in state on Wednesday in San Francisco, per NBC’s Liz Brown-Kaiser… And California Gov. Gavin Newsom picks EMILY’s List’s Laphonza Butler to fill Feinstein’s Senate seat. 

But FIRST… Congress — to almost everyone’s surprise — approved a short-term deal over the weekend to prevent a government shutdown 13 months before next year’s general election.  

Now comes the hard part. 

What happens to Kevin McCarthy’s speakership after 209 House Democrats and just 126 House Republicans voted for the short-term spending deal? And who replaces McCarthy if he’s ousted?

“I do intend to file a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy this week,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., told CNN Sunday.  

Do Democrats vote to allow McCarthy to survive? Or do they let his speakership collapse?

As Politico reports, Gaetz will need Democratic votes to remove McCarthy as speaker. And so Dems will face this choose: Stick with the devil you know, or let the House GOP devolve into chaos — and take away McCarthy’s donor network ahead of the 2024 elections? 

What happens to funding for Ukraine? The short-term spending deal omitted that aid, and it’s a big priority for President Joe Biden. 

“I fully expect the speaker to keep his commitment to secure the passage and support needed to help Ukraine as they defend themselves against aggression and brutality,” Biden said in remarks Sunday. 

Finally, what happens in November when this temporary spending deal runs out? 

Is Congress back to square one — with or without McCarthy as speaker? 

 Passing the short-term spending deal was the easy part; passing a longer-term deal to fund the government will be much, much harder.

Headline of the day

The number of the day is … 31

That’s nearly how many years Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., served in the Senate before she died last week. She was 90 years-old.

Feinstein, who joined the Senate in November 1992 after winning a special election, was the longest-serving female senator and the longest-serving senator from California. Before she joined Congress’ upper chamber, she was mayor of San Francisco.

Following her death, current and former colleagues paid tribute to Feinstein, and the Senate draped a black cloth over her seat on the Senate floor.

On Sunday evening, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would appoint Laphonza Butler, the president of EMILY’s List, to fill Feinstein’s seat until next year’s Senate election, fulfilling his pledge to appoint a Black woman to the seat. The Senate has not included any Black women since Vice President Kamala Harris left the chamber for the White House. 

The race for a full Senate term to replace Feinstein features three candidates from the House — Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, and it’s already shaping up to be an expensive contest. NBC News’ Sahil Kapur reports that Schiff raised $6.4 million from July through September, ending the fundraising quarter with $32 million on hand.

Other numbers to know

5: How many misdemeanor charges Scott Hall, one of Trump’s co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case, pleaded guilty to on Friday, the first defendant to do so. 

More than 2,000: How many claims processors have resigned or retired from the Veterans Affairs Department since 2020, per NBC News’ Melissa Chan.

99: Former President Jimmy Carter’s age, following his birthday on Sunday. 

3: The number of cases before the Supreme Court this term involving Trump-appointed justices seeking to hobble federal agencies, NBC News’ Lawrence Hurley reports. 

20%: The share of American adults who say conservatives have “a lot” of freedom to express their views on college campuses, while 47% say the same about liberals, per a new AP-NORC poll.

2: The number of scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for their work developing mRNA vaccines against Covid-19.

Eyes on 2024: Search for Trump alternative focuses on DeSantis and Haley

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley are emerging as the top two alternatives for Republicans who do not want to see former President Donald Trump win the GOP nomination — at least for major GOP donors. 

NBC News’ Allan Smith, Jonathan Allen, Matt Dixon and Dasha Burns were first to report on Friday that major Republican donors are gathering in Dallas on Oct. 13, where they’ll hear presentations from the DeSantis and Haley campaigns (the candidates themselves will not attend). GOP megadonors Ken Griffin, Harlan Crow and Paul Singer are organizing the meeting. 

“Donors are not expected to be asked to formally consolidate their support behind one candidate during the meeting,” write Smith, Allen, Dixon and Burns. “But the gathering offers both Haley and DeSantis camps to try and convince the group their candidate is the most viable alternative to Trump, who leads the GOP primary polls by wide margins.”

The meeting comes as the anti-Trump effort within the GOP has floundered, NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard and Ben Kamisar reported last week. 

Win It Back, a PAC tied to the conservative Club for Growth, has slowed its anti-Trump spending. And in a memo to donors last week, the group’s leader, David McIntosh, wrote that their ad campaign saw “diminishing returns” in hurting Trump’s standing. 

“While we successfully identified messaging and a series of ads that lowered President Trump’s support across our testing and polls, none of the alternative candidates have consolidated the non-Trump vote yet,” McIntosh wrote.

In other campaign news … 

Trump trials: Trump is expected to appear in court on Monday and Tuesday as part of the civil fraud trial, NBC News’ Tom Winter, Jonathan Dienst and Garrett Haake report. He’s also been using the trial to fundraise for his campaign, per CNBC. In the federal election interference case, prosecutors submitted a new court filing Friday highlighting Trump’s recent comments in a push for a gag order in the case. 

Mister independent?: Mediaite reported on Friday that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination, will announce later this month that he will run for president as an independent instead. Kennedy has not yet publicly confirmed that news, but he did share a video on X teasing a “major announcement” in Philadelphia on Oct. 9. Politico also reported that the pro-Kennedy super PAC, American Values 2024, has begun polling a potential independent bid

The fight for Iowa: Trump is focusing on counties in eastern Iowa that he flipped in 2016 in his bid to win the Hawkeye State caucuses, per the Associated Press. And former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is also focusing on Iowa, looking to capitalize on momentum from the second GOP debate, per the New York Times. 

Labor relations: The Washington Post explores President Joe Biden’s relationship with United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain. 

DPCC loses DP: Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., announced Sunday he is stepping down from his post as co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Caucus “to avoid unnecessary distractions.” He noted his calls for a primary challenger to Biden “are incongruent with the majority of my caucus.”

Battle for the Senate: CNN spoke to National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines, R-Mont., who weighed in on multiple races. He advised Arizona Republican Kari Lake to “look to the future” in her expected run; said Republicans will “have to keep an eye on Texas;” and signaled the committee would stay out of the Ohio GOP Senate primary. On Trump, Daines said the former president “provides a lot of strength for us down ballot in many key states.”

Abortion on the ballot: Democrats running for governor this year in three red states — Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi — will test different approaches to running on the abortion issue in conservative areas. 

Shutdown politics: Even though a shutdown was averted for now, the threat still looms later this year. But some Republican strategists did not expect a shutdown to endanger the GOP’s slim House majority.  

All eyes on Virginia: Virginia’s legislative elections next month will provide clues for 2024, and Democrats are upping their investment as GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin rakes in cash for the GOP. Axios reports that the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is spending an additional $1 million on the races. 

ICYMI: What ELSE is happening in the world

In an excerpt from his new book about disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried featured in the Washington Post, Michael Lewis reports that Bankman-Fried explored paying former President Donald Trump not to run for president and even went so far as speaking with Trump’s team about the idea.

An IRS consultant was charged on Friday for wrongfully disclosing tax return information, including Trump’s leaked tax returns.

In rural Idaho, NBC News’ Julianne McShane reports, many pregnant women are forced to drive great lengths across the state or to other states to seek maternity care, as OBGYNs leave the state or shutter their departments following the state’s abortion ban.