Speaker Kevin McCarthy suffered yet another stinging defeat Thursday, as a handful of conservatives tanked a key vote that was supposed to signal the way out of days of intraparty bickering.
Instead, GOP hardliners again blockaded the floor for the second time in three days — leaving McCarthy unable to call the party’s own defense spending bill to the floor. This time, though, it came as a shock to many GOP leaders, who believed they won over enough holdouts to finally bring up the Pentagon funding bill.
Perhaps more ominously, the ultraconservatives’ gambit proved what many in the GOP had already suspected: That McCarthy is essentially powerless to avert a government closure that could begin Oct. 1.
Across the conference, House Republicans erupted in fury.
“This is painful. It gives me a headache. This is a very difficult series of missteps by our conference,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) told POLITICO. “If you can’t do [the defense bill], what can you do?”
Walking down the steps of the Capitol after the failed vote, battleground Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), too, vented about the hardliners.
“At this point, it seems like there are some people playing policy warfare, and I think we need to move our country forward,” he said. “We’re pretty frustrated.”
The setback throws the next House schedule once again into limbo, with McCarthy’s plans for a weekend session highly likely to evaporate.
“If we have votes for the rest of this week, I’ll be surprised,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said.
Leadership had hoped to be able to pass the defense bill by Friday. After that, they would either take up a short-term funding bill — which doesn’t have the votes to pass the chamber — or move on to another full-year funding bill with more support.
But now, McCarthy and his team seem shackled, unable to bring anything to the floor. GOP leaders may start calling up individual spending bills next week while trying to add more cuts, part of a broader effort to shake loose opposition to their short-term spending patch.
Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) told reporters that House Republicans “are very dysfunctional right now.”
“Obviously they can’t count. They’re trying to work something out,” Burchett added of leadership, saying some members still wanted concessions and that “those concessions better be written in stone.”
But Republicans, leaving the floor after the setback, acknowledged they have no idea what comes next. And there’s only 10 days until a shutdown.
A day earlier, Republicans left a closed-door conference meeting confident they had the votes to move the defense bill after Reps. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) and Ken Buck (R-Colo.) told leadership that they would flip their votes on advancing the defense bill, allowing it to move to a full passage vote after helping to block it earlier this week.
But Republicans ran back into trouble when Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), who had both voted for the rule earlier this week, flipped on Thursday and opposed it. Democrats, meanwhile, worked furiously to limit their own absences and maximize the GOP’s tiny margin: They raced to track down their missing members during the vote, ushering in two tardy lawmakers.
That effort remains ongoing: Democratic leaders are pushing hard to bring back additional members, including Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who announced Tuesday evening she tested positive for Covid, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) didn’t directly mention Greene or Crane by name but criticized members who were “making inconsistent stands of their own principles.”
Higgins, asked what the schedule was for the next few days, quipped: “If you find out what my schedule is will you please advise me? Because I would like to know.”
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