Congress Just Narrowly Averted a Shutdown — What’s Next?

Kevin McCarthy

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy could be in for the biggest political fight of his career.

Millions of active-duty military and federal workers who were bracing to work without pay likely breathed a sigh of relief over the weekend after the government avoided a widely expected shutdown.

In a dramatic turn of events, Congress passed a short-term funding bill late Saturday to keep federal offices open until mid-November. Just hours before the midnight deadline, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made a surprise announcement, saying he was going to push through a short-term measure to keep government funding at the current levels — and he had to turn to Democrats for help. 

When the vote was ultimately called, 209 Democrats voted in favor of it, compared to 126 Republicans. The bill quickly passed in the Senate 88-9. Now, a group of ultra-conservative lawmakers have vowed to oust McCarthy over the move, though the leader has made it clear that he doesn’t plan on going anywhere. 

“It’s alright if Republicans and Democrats work together,” the House speaker said after the vote. “If somebody wants to make a motion against me, bring it. There has to be an adult in the room.”

As McCarthy prepares to fight for his leadership role, here’s what we know about what went down inside Washington and what’s still at stake.

Who voted against the spending bill?

In total, 91 House lawmakers voted against the stopgap measure. All of them were Republican — except for Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, who was the only Democrat to vote no. (As the co-chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, Quigley refused to support the bill in protest of the lack of funding for the war-torn country, which was ultimately cut — but more on that later.)

It’s worth mentioning that some members in the lower chamber didn’t vote at all. These included GOP Reps. John Carter, E. Carter, Byron Donalds, John Joyce, and Anna Paulina Luna. Two Democrats — Katie Porter and Mary Peltola — also did not cast a ballot. 

As for the Senate, an overwhelming majority of lawmakers voted in favor of the continuing resolution, except for a small band of Republicans. These included Sens. Marsha Blackburn, Mike Braun, Ted Cruz, Bill Hagerty, Mike Lee, Roger Marshall, Rand Paul, Eric Schmitt, and J.D. Vance.

What’s in the stopgap measure?

The measure — officially called HR 586 — essentially keeps the government funded until Nov. 17 at this year’s levels. 

The 71-page bill, which was crafted by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, includes compromises on both sides. Republicans had to drop their massive proposed spending cuts and tough border restrictions, while Democrats had to give up additional Ukraine aid. But not everything was stripped away: It still includes $16 billion in disaster relief. 

Now, lawmakers have just weeks to either come up with another full year of government spending levels or fall back on yet another short-term funding fix. But, unfortunately, these contentious policy fights have only intensified. “We didn’t get ANYTHING out of yesterday’s flawed CR,” said Rep. Byron Donalds on X. “Slashing spending & securing our border should be COMMON SENSE,” he added.

Perhaps what is even more crucial is that the parties remain far apart on government spending, with the national debt now sitting above $33 trillion. Republicans are looking for a debt ceiling far below what McCarthy negotiated with Biden in May. Their tentative deal would hold spending flat for 2024, while capping increases at 1 percent for 2025.

Meanwhile, President Biden hit another key issue lawmakers are trying to come to an agreement on. On Sunday, he warned that time is running out to provide more financial support for Ukraine in their war against Russia. By leaving out additional aid from the measure to keep the government open, McCarthy shut down the potential of passing a Senate package that would’ve sent an estimated $6 billion to the country, which is roughly one-third of what has been requested by the White House. “We cannot under any circumstances allow American for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said.

Why are some Republicans trying to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy?

The short answer is it’s complicated. At least 10 hardline conservatives tanked multiple Republican-led efforts to pass a funding deal. This, in turn, left McCarthy unable to pass a bill with just conservative votes and he was forced to rely on Democratic support. As a result, this same group is threatening to give him the boot. 

On Sunday, GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz said he planned on introducing a measure to remove McCarthy from his leadership position, which could come as soon as today. The Florida congressman accused the GOP leader of breaking several promises with the bill, one of which would have given lawmakers 72 hours to read it before voting. “I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” Gaetz said. In response, McCarthy told CBS: “I’ll survive. This is personal with Matt.”

Gaetz happens to be one of six Republicans who never supported McCarthy in his fight to take the speaker’s gavel in January. But others on the far-right have echoed Gaetz’s comments, with Rep. Donalds telling Fox News that McCarthy is in “trouble.” That means McCarthy might need to turn to Democrats to bail him out again. 

McCarthy needs at least 218 votes to keep him in power, and even with support from Democrats and Republicans, his future isn’t certain. According to Politico, as many as 24 GOP House members could support ousting him. If this sounds like unfamiliar territory, it’s because it is — it would be the first challenge to the Speaker of the House role in more than 100 years. (The last time such a thing happened was in 1910, when GOP Rep. George Norris introduced a resolution to remove Speaker Joe Cannon from his post as chairman of the House Rules Committee.)

While nothing’s a guarantee, McCarthy’s move to pass the stopgap bill has at least earned him some respect from his fellow Democratic counterparts. “I didn’t think [Speaker McCarthy] had the backbone to stand up to the MAGA extremists, but he did today,” New York Rep. Daniel Goldman wrote on X. “Finally, he chose to be Speaker of the whole House, not just Speaker of the MAGA cult.”