WASHINGTON — A band of conservative rebels on Friday revolted and blocked House Republicans’ short-term funding bill to keep the government open, delivering a political blow to Speaker Kevin McCarthy and likely cementing the chances of a painful government shutdown that is less than 48 hours away.
Twenty-one rebels, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a conservative bomb-thrower and a top Donald Trump ally, voted Friday afternoon to scuttle the 30-day funding bill, leaving Republicans without a game plan to avert a shutdown.
The vote failed, 198-232.
The hard-liners say they are unconcerned if the government shuts down, as it appears likely to do at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. They want the House to pass all 12 appropriations bills, with steep spending cuts, then negotiate funding with the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Moderate Republicans lashed out with fury at the conservatives who voted down the funding bill, with specific criticism reserved for Gaetz, whom they accused of fomenting chaos to oust McCarthy.
"Unfortunately, a handful of people, and in particular a party of one, Matt Gaetz, has chosen to put his own agenda, his own personal agenda, above all else," Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., who is facing a tough reelection bid next year, said after the vote.
"There is only one person to blame for any potential government shutdown, and that is Matt Gaetz," he added. "He's not a conservative Republican; he's a charlatan."
Gaetz later tweeted at Lawler: "20 other Republicans voted with me. And, BE BEST, Mike!"
In a bid to reset, House Republicans huddled behind closed doors in the Capitol basement for nearly three hours Friday to try to hash out their differences. But they emerged from that meeting without consensus on how to move forward and keep the government open.
The House will return for a rare Saturday session, but it's unclear what they will vote on. McCarthy said after the meeting he's now eyeing a clean funding bill — with no Ukraine aid — that would originate in the House, but added that Democrats likely would not support it.
"There are a lot of personalities at play here, and multiple strategic objectives. When you have multiple objectives, you're never going to get everyone on board," a frustrated Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said as she left the room.
"And I will venture to say that there are members who don't care whether the government stays open or shuts down."
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A day earlier, McCarthy had rallied his troops behind the GOP's stopgap funding bill, saying a shutdown would "weaken" the GOP's negotiating position and hand the White House and the Senate more leverage. McCarthy's CR included across-the-board spending cuts, border security provisions and would have funded the government through Oct. 31, to buy Republicans more time to pass their appropriations bills.
"I think the failure to move something this afternoon clearly puts the advantage back on the Senate bill," said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., a top appropriator, referring to the Senate's 45-day CR, which lacks the spending cuts and border funding conservatives are pushing for.
The embarrassing failure of the GOP measure once again highlights the dilemma for McCarthy as his hard-liners strongly oppose a short-term bill even if it includes conservative priorities. It leaves Congress on a path to a shutdown, with no apparent offramp to avoiding it — or to quickly reopen the government.
A handful of GOP defections were always expected, but the 21 no votes were seen as a staggering number. The Republicans voting down McCarthy's CR included: Gaetz and Reps. Andy Biggs, Eli Crane and Paul Gosar, all of Arizona; Lauren Boebert and Ken Buck, both of Colorado; Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; Tim Burchett and Andy Ogles, both of Tennessee; Alex Mooney, who is running for Senate in West Virginia; Matt Rosendale, who is running for Senate in Montana; and Nancy Mace, who represents a swing district in South Carolina.
"We're in the 9th inning. We're playing baseball. It's 7 o'clock at night, the sun's going down and we don't have lights. So now let's panic, and that's what we've done here," said Rep. Troy Nehls, R-Texas, one of the 21 defectors who slammed leadership for waiting to pass funding bills at the deadline. "We've waited too damn long."
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had trashed the GOP stopgap bill, which all Democrats voted against.
"Extreme House Republicans are now tripling down on their demands to eviscerate programs millions of hardworking families count on—proposing a devastating 30% cut to law enforcement, Meals on Wheels, Head Start, and more," she said in a statement. "They are breaking their word, abandoning the bipartisan deal that two-thirds of them voted for just four months ago, and marching our country toward an Extreme Republican Shutdown that will damage our economy and national security."
The White House is endorsing the Senate stopgap bill that continues funding at existing levels through Nov. 17 and adds some $6 billion in aid to Ukraine and another $6 billion in disaster relief.
"The path forward to fund the government has been laid out by the Senate with bipartisan support—House Republicans just need to take it," Jean-Pierre said.
The Republican-led House passed three appropriations bills late Thursday, on entirely or mostly party-line votes. None of them have a chance of passing the Senate or becoming law.
Another obstacle to resolving the dispute is that Democrats — who control the Senate and the White House — are furious with McCarthy for reneging on the two-year budget deal he struck with President Joe Biden earlier this year.
“Last time McCarthy cut a ‘deal’ with Biden, he double crossed the President within weeks. McCarthy’s word is worth nothing right now,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on X.