Divisions among House Republicans were on display Thursday as tensions erupted during a closed-door meeting and later the chamber convened with late night votes as a government shutdown nears.
With just a little over two days before the federal government shuts down, there is no clear path to avoid a shutdown. The Senate is working to advance a bipartisan proposal for a short-term funding extension, but House Republicans have thrown cold water on it as many House conservatives balk at the prospect of a stopgap bill.
The House passed several spending bills late Thursday night, but the measures would not stop a shutdown and have no hope of passing in the Senate. The votes were part of an effort by House GOP leadership to try to show conservatives that they are working in good faith to advance full-year funding bills.
At the end of the night, however, a bill to fund the Department of Agriculture failed to pass on the floor with 27 Republicans voting against it, highlighting once again the difficulty the House GOP has had coalescing around spending bills.
Tensions had been mounting throughout the day as House Republicans met behind closed-doors earlier, the latest sign of infighting as the House GOP conference has failed to coalesce around a plan to avert a lapse in government funding.
GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz and Speaker Kevin McCarthy got into a testy exchange during the meeting, according to a source in the room. Gaetz stood up and confronted McCarthy about whether his allies were paying conservative influencers to bash Gaetz in social media posts – an allegation circulating on social media and one the speaker’s office has denied.
McCarthy’s response, according to the source in the room, was that he wouldn’t waste his time or money on Gaetz. Another source said McCarthy also shot back that he doesn’t know what Gaetz is spending time on, but that the speaker is donating $5 million to help keep the majority.
“I asked him whether or not he was paying those influencers to post negative things about me online,” Gaetz told CNN’s Manu Raju – and confirmed that McCarthy said he wouldn’t waste time on him.
McCarthy and Gaetz have long had a tense relationship and Gaetz has led the charge in threatening to force a vote to oust the speaker as pressure on McCarthy builds during the shutdown spending fight and hardline conservatives balk at the prospect of passing any kind of short-term funding extension to keep the government opening.
After the exchange, members in the room could be heard complaining about Gaetz, with one member calling him a “scumbag” and another saying “F**k off,” according to a third source in the room.
McCarthy’s outside counsel earlier this week sent a cease and desist letter to the person soliciting influencers to bash Gaetz and claiming to be doing so on behalf of McCarthy, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CNN.
McCarthy is gearing up to have the chamber vote Friday on a GOP stopgap bill, but he appears to lack the votes from his own members to pass the measure.
The speaker refused to say whether he would try to cut a deal with Democrats if conservative hardliners bring down his stopgap measure.
“I still got time. I got time to do other things,” McCarthy responded when asked by Raju what will happen if the stopgap bill fails Friday.
Pressed further on whether he has a plan B, McCarthy said, “In this job you got to have an ABCDEF and G,” and he laughed when asked what letter he was currently on. “I haven’t spelled my name out completely,” the California Republican said.
McCarthy said, “I think I’m fine,” when asked about Gaetz’s repeated threats to oust him from his job.
Rep. Matt Gaetz speaks with CNN about what it would take to avoid a government shutdown
Meanwhile, the Senate is working to advance a bipartisan stopgap bill that would keep the government open through November 17 and provide additional aid to Ukraine and disaster relief. McCarthy has so far dismissed that bill.
It could take until Monday to pass the Senate’s bill to keep the government open if GOP Sen. Rand Paul slows down the process over his demand that the bill drop the $6.2 billion in aid to Ukraine it contains, according to senators. That would put it past the Saturday evening shutdown deadline.
GOP senators are trying to cut a deal to give Paul an amendment vote in exchange for letting the process speed up. Any one senator can slow down the process, and it takes unanimous support to expedite a vote in the chamber.
As the chamber recessed for the evening, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that senators should be prepared to take a procedural vote on their short-term spending bill on Saturday morning, if they can’t get a time agreement to speed the process along.
But Paul, a Kentucky Republican, vowed Thursday evening that he would seek to slow down consideration of any shot-term spending bill with the aid attached.
The Senate took a procedural vote to advance the bipartisan stopgap bill on Thursday, though it’s still not clear when a final passage vote will take place. The vote was 76 to 22.
A small group of Senate negotiators are frantically working to find a series of amendments that could boost border security and be added to the Senate’s short-term spending bill and GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, a member of that group, said on Thursday that they are making progress.
Tillis said negotiators are eyeing separate amendments on more funding for border security and changes in border policy. One would be an amendment that would increase funding and would require just a simple majority of votes to pass. The other that deals with policy would be at a higher 60 vote threshold.
“Time is of the essence,” Tillis said when asked how long this would take.
As the September 30 shutdown deadline rapidly approaches, the federal government has begun preparing for its effects.
A shutdown could have enormous impacts across the country, in consequential areas ranging from air travel to clean drinking water, as many government operations would come to a halt, while services deemed “essential” would continue.
The White House is continuing to brace for a possible shutdown this weekend, including by making preparations for many junior personnel who would be furloughed starting on October 1.
Some senior West Wing staff in recent days have learned how to perform tasks that would typically be executed by junior aides, including blasting out press releases or making updates to the White House website, officials said.
So-called commissioned officers – including those with titles like special assistant, deputy assistant, and assistant to the president – will be required to report for duty as essential workers. Other employees will remain at work because they serve critical functions to national security and safety, such as the entirety of the National Security Council and the US Secret Service.
The nearly 4 million Americans who are federal employees will feel the effect immediately. Essential workers will remain on the job, but others will be furloughed until the shutdown is over. None will be paid during the impasse. For many, a shutdown would strain their finances, as it did during the record 35-day funding lapse in 2018-2019.
Democratic and Republicans alike have been highlighting the potential impacts of a shutdown as they warn against a lapse in funding.
“It’s important to remember that if we shut down the government – for those of us who are concerned about the border and want it to be improved – the border patrol … have to continue to work for nothing,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference Wednesday.
US Border Patrol agents are considered essential and will continue to perform their law enforcement functions, including apprehending migrants crossing the border unlawfully, during a government shutdown – but without pay.
The White House is sounding alarms about massive disruptions to air travel if tens of thousands of air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration personnel work without pay, saying a shutdown could risk “significant delays for travelers” across the country. During the 2019 shutdown, hundreds of TSA officers called out from work – many of them to find other ways to make money.
The White House has also warned of impacts to national security, including the 1.3 million active-duty troops who would not get paid during a shutdown.
This story and headline have been updated with additional details.