WASHINGTON — Republican divisions paralyzed the House again on Tuesday as a small band of conservative rebels blocked a motion to merely begin debate on a military funding bill and GOP leaders abandoned a separate vote to avert a shutdown at the end of the month.
The military vote was close, 212-214, with five GOP hardliners in the narrow majority joining Democrats to sink it: Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Dan Bishop, R-N.C., Ken Buck, R-Colo., Ralph Norman, R-S.C., and Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.
With just 11 days until the deadline, Norman said a government shutdown is inevitable.
“I do not” see a way to prevent it, Norman said, adding that conservatives want assurances on a “top line” spending level that Congress will stick by before they agree to pass any full-year funding bills.
Meanwhile, a split within the far-right has also endangered a continuing resolution, or CR, to stave off a shutdown on Sept. 30, with some Freedom Caucus members rejecting a deal struck between other Freedom Caucus members and center-right lawmakers. A procedural vote on the CR was planned for Tuesday afternoon, but leadership pulled it off the floor after failing to flip the roughly dozen declared no votes.
"They didn't have the votes," Norman said after meeting with leadership.
The House GOP chaos is worse than it may appear. The bills Republicans are fighting over have no chance of becoming law — and if they passed the chamber they’d merely represent an opening bid to negotiate with the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden, who oppose the spending cuts and conservative policies that House Republicans are pursuing.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made clear that the House GOP’s continuing resolution “is a total nonstarter in the Senate.”
“It is a slapdash, reckless, cruel CR,” Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters.
The hardliners who are unwilling to accept the compromises necessary to pass funding bills through the House are less likely to accept measures that can become law.
And they’re threatening to overthrow Speaker Kevin McCarthy if their demands aren’t met.
Asked if the short-term funding bill was dead after the day's setbacks, a frustrated McCarthy conceded, "it makes it more difficult."
"Think about what what they're voting against," the speaker said. "They're voting against even bringing the bill up ... the idea that you vote against a rule to bring it up? That doesn't make sense to me."
Moderate Republicans facing tough races in 2024 suggested they could pay a political price for the GOP infighting and alienating voters who want to see governing in Washington.
Flanked by Republican veterans after the military bill failed Tuesday, Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said, "I’m disappointed. I am pissed off."
"It's a bad look to not be able to get a rule through the floor. And when you do that, what you've effectively done is hand the keys of the majority to the minority," Garcia, who represents one of the 18 GOP districts Joe Biden won in 2020, said. "We've got to do some damage control now as a result of that, especially in swing districts that are vulnerable."
Specifically, the conservative rabble-rousers are demanding that McCarthy follow through with the agreement he made with them in January to secure the speaker's gavel: cut non-defense discretionary spending to levels that existed before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s a failure to lead on behalf of the speaker for us to not have already done it,” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., a Freedom Caucus member and McCarthy foe. “He has shown no determination to do that. And he has not led the conference to that effect. And that’s why we haven’t passed our bills.”
The stunning, public failures came after a day full of heated and chaotic internal GOP meetings. During a free-wheeling morning conference meeting, Republican lawmakers clashed over the CR deal, with some attacking it and others defending it.
Later, in GOP Whip Tom Emmer's, R-Minn., office, the number of moderates and conservative lawmakers became so large, they had to split off: One group huddled in a room in Emmer's office, another went to Chief Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler's, R-Pa. Conservative Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said a big problem for leadership was that "some of the folks that need to be in the room are not in the room," referring to the dozen or so no votes.
Burchett offered this extended metaphor to describe his frustration: "You let the train leave the station and then you see if it’s going in the right direction, or you see if you can get enough people on board, then you jump in front of it and say, 'Hey I’m running this train.'"
"It feels like Festivus, the airing of the grievances, in there," added freshman moderate Rep. Nick LaLota, R-N.Y.
"Folks are expressing what their constituents need, what they require," he continued. "A number of us actually want to keep the government going. Everyone wants to ensure that America stays on a better fiscal track moving forward," calling the meeting "spirited but I think productive."
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., a Freedom Caucus member who negotiated the CR deal, said that if House Republicans fail to unify, they could be forced to swallow a bill the Democratic-led Senate passes.
“There is a risk of being jammed by the Senate. I acknowledge that,” Donalds said. “So if the Senate jams us because of, frankly, parochial silly infighting amongst House Republicans, the American people suffer. That’s it.”
Senate Republican leaders are urging their House counterparts not to force a shutdown.
“I’m not a fan of government shutdowns. I’ve seen a few of them over the years," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on Tuesday. "They never have produced a policy change and they’ve always been a loser for Republicans politically."