WASHINGTON — Facing fresh challenges to his leadership, Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to accomplish what at times seems impossible — working furiously to convince House Republicans to come together and pass a conservative bill to keep the federal government open.
It’s a nearly futile exercise that could help McCarthy keep his job, but has little chance of actually preventing a federal shutdown. Whatever House Republicans come up with is nearly certain to be rejected by the Senate, where Democrats and most Republicans want to fund the government.
In one dramatic sign of defeat Tuesday, House Republicans were even voting against their own defense bill. During a rowdy afternoon vote, the usually popular bill was turned back from consideration, 212-214, after five hard-right conservatives helped sink it. They want to see an overall plan from McCarthy.
McCarthy simply walked off the House floor. “Look, the one thing you’re going to learn about me: I like a challenge — I don’t like this big a challenge — but we’re just gonna keep doing it until we can make it,” McCarthy told reporters.
With time dwindling, Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass the broader government funding legislation and get a bill to President Joe Biden’s desk to become law. Otherwise, the U.S. faces massive federal government closures and disruptions. Plans for another vote Tuesday to advance the overall spending bill were shelved.
“The ball’s in Kevin’s court,” said Republican Rep. Ralph Norman of the Freedom Caucus.
The latest House government funding proposal, a compromise between members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the more pragmatic Main Street conservatives, was almost dead on arrival, left sputtering even after McCarthy loaded it up with spending cuts and Republican priorities in a border security package.
Behind closed doors Tuesday, the speaker was trying to stress the political repercussions of a government shutdown to Republicans, warning them that no party wins with a closure.
Unlike last week when an angry and frustrated McCarthy unleashed foul language on his colleagues, he tried a different tack when addressing his members privately in the Capitol basement.
Appearing cool, calm and collected, McCarthy cast the funding plan as just a proposal and left time for rank-and-file members to debate, according to Republicans familiar with the meeting.
Still, one Republican after another rose to tell McCarthy that the current plan would not have their votes. With a slim majority, he needs almost every Republican on board.
Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., one of the negotiators for the Main Street group, urged her colleagues later to not let the “perfect be the enemy of the good.”
The showdown over the usually popular defense bill shows the difficulty ahead — it was the second time McCarthy had tried to advance the measure after he abruptly withdrew it from consideration last week.
The attempt to soothe tensions among Republicans comes as tempers are flaring and as big personalities try to seize the upper hand — some trying to lead and others hoping to disrupt any plans for compromise.
Florida’s two leading conservatives, Matt Gaetz and newcomer Byron Donalds, are sniping in the halls and across social media, as Gaetz criticizes the deal Donalds and others struck as insufficiently conservative.
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