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House Speaker McCarthy faces an uphill battle to unify the House of Representatives and fund the government.


WASHINGTON — Facing new challenges to his leadership, Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to accomplish what sometimes seems impossible: working doggedly to convince House Republicans to unite and pass a conservative bill to keep the federal government open.

It’s a near-futile exercise that might help McCarthy keep his job, but is unlikely to actually prevent a federal government shutdown. Whatever Republicans propose in the House, it is almost certain to be rejected by the Senate, where Democrats and most Republicans want to fund the government.

On Tuesday, in a dramatic sign of their defeat, Republicans in the House of Representatives even voted against their own defense bill. In a heated afternoon vote, the usually popular bill was defeated after far-right conservatives insisted they wanted to see a comprehensive plan from McCarthy.

The resolution to debate the defense bill failed by a vote of 212 to 214, as five Republicans resisted partying to sink it. McCarthy simply left the House.

With time running out, Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass the broader government funding legislation and submit a bill to President Joe Biden’s desk to become law. Otherwise, the United States would face massive shutdowns and disruptions from the federal government. Plans for another vote Tuesday to advance the overall spending bill were scrapped.

“The ball is in Kevin’s court,” said Republican Rep. Ralph Norman of the Freedom Caucus.

The House government’s latest funding proposal, a compromise between members of the far-right Freedom Caucus and other members of the more pragmatic Main Street conservatives, was almost dead on arrival, left hanging even after McCarthy tasked her with spending cuts and Republican priorities in a border security package.

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Behind closed doors Tuesday, the speaker attempted to highlight the political repercussions of a government shutdown on Republicans, warning them that no party would win with a shutdown.

Unlike a closed-door GOP meeting last week, during which an angry and frustrated McCarthy hurled foul language at his colleagues, he tried a different approach in addressing his members Tuesday morning in the basement of the Capitol.

Appearing calm, composed and collected, McCarthy presented the funding plan as a simple proposal and allowed time for rank-and-file members to debate its merits, according to Republicans familiar with the meeting.

Yet one Republican after another rose to speak, telling McCarthy that the current plan would not get their votes. With a slim majority, he needs almost all Republicans on board.

Rep. Stephanie Bice, Republican of Oklahoma, one of the Main Street group’s negotiators, later urged her colleagues not to let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

The showdown over the usually popular defense bill shows the difficulties ahead — it was the second time McCarthy has tried to advance the measure. He abruptly withdrew that question last week when Conservatives signaled they would make a show of force by pushing for broader spending cuts elsewhere.

The attempt to ease tensions among Republicans comes as tempers are heating up and major figures in the majority are trying to gain 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 at each other in the hallways and on social media, as Gaetz criticizes the deal Donalds and others struck as insufficiently conservative.

And freshman Rep. Victoria Spartaz, R-Ind., pointedly attacked McCarthy as a “weak speaker.”

One veteran lawmaker, Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., warned that infighting could derail the House Republican Party, much as it has for past speakers like John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Both retired ahead of schedule amid constant threats of ouster.

Womack said he fears there is a “broader fight” brewing at the House GOP conference “that is more of a personal nature because of the conflict between some members and the speaker.”

The one-month funding plan that McCarthy is proposing would impose deep spending cuts of more than 8 percent across many government services, while sparing the defense and veterans affairs accounts. This would last 31 days to give Republicans time to approve more traditional appropriations bills needed to fund the government.

The White House released a memo detailing the Republican plan’s cuts, saying it would mean fewer Border Patrol agents, teacher aides, Meals on Wheels for the elderly and Head Start slots for children.

“House Republicans are playing partisan games with people’s lives and leading our country toward a government shutdown,” the White House said, “instead of working in a bipartisan manner to keep the government open and respond to the urgent needs of the American people.

Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the floor by warning of the deep cuts Republicans are considering with their “cruel” and “reckless” spending plan.

Basically, House Republicans are trying to undo the deal McCarthy struck with Biden earlier this year to set federal funding levels in the debt ceiling fight. The Conservatives then rejected this measure, even though it had been approved and promulgated, and are now trying to dismantle it.

McCarthy had tried to rally Republicans around an interim funding plan that he presented as a “bottom-up” legislative approach negotiated by his various factions.

But House Republicans are behind in their efforts and running out of time to act. Whatever bills they pass will almost certainly fail in the Senate, where bipartisan groups of senators have already begun approving their own funding bills, some at levels higher than the Biden-McCarthy deal.

The dozen Republicans who have expressed displeasure with McCarthy’s proposal see the current impasse as a watershed moment to force the speaker to commit to slashing government spending.

“If my party won’t stand up, what’s the right thing to do?” » said Spartz. “No matter how difficult it is, I don’t think anyone else will do it.”

When Spartz was asked if she would support an effort to oust McCarthy, she said she was “open to anything.”

But Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who helped draft the proposal, virtually dared his fellow Freedom Caucus members and other “so-called conservative colleagues” to reject the package — particularly its provisions of “dream bill” to deal with migrants. on the US border with Mexico.

“If my conservative colleagues want to vote against this, go explain it,” Roy said.

The holdouts want deeper cuts that would respect the $1.47 trillion in annual discretionary funding they initially put forward earlier this year to raise the country’s debt ceiling.

By adopting this opening proposal in April, McCarthy was able to force Biden and the Democratic Senate to the negotiating table and ultimately pass a compromise reducing federal spending. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to achieve such a feat again.

“We’re throwing everything at the wall right now,” said Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif.

Associated Press reporter Kevin Freking contributed to this report.


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