McConnell Weakens McCarthy’s Leverage in Government Shutdown Talks

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(Bloomberg) -- Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell distanced himself from House Republicans’ government shutdown demands, underscoring the divide within the party and weakening Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s negotiating leverage as Washington barrels toward an Oct. 1 federal funding lapse.

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Emerging from a closed-door meeting Wednesday of Senate Republicans, McConnell defended a bipartisan Senate plan to temporarily keep open the government until mid-November and provide $6 billion in new assistance to Ukraine. The measure has stirred fierce criticism from conservative hardliners in the House.

The proposal, including the Ukraine aid, “makes sense for the Senate, I also think it makes sense for the country,” McConnell said.

“The Senate and the House are quite different, and I think in the Senate we’re going to continue to try to reach agreement that can pass on a bipartisan basis and hopefully keep the government open,” he added.

The stance is another indication that McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans won’t stand with McCarthy in the event the government closes down Sunday and payments stop to federal employees and contractors.

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McCarthy has struggled to get enough votes in the Republican-controlled House for temporary government funding even with provisions requiring deep spending cuts, as well as border and asylum policy changes that are anathema to most Democrats.

President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday afternoon he hadn’t given up hope of averting a shutdown that seems increasingly likely.

“I don’t think anything is inevitable in politics,” Biden said during a meeting with his science and technology council in San Francisco.

The Senate late Tuesday cleared an early procedural vote on its bipartisan plan, with passage expected over the weekend.

McCarthy groused to House Republicans during a meeting Wednesday morning about Senate Republicans’ unwillingness to stick to the demands of their House counterparts, several people at the meeting said. One lawmaker, Representative Bob Good of Virginia, said McCarthy told his rank and file that he won’t allow a House vote on the Senate temporary funding plan.

McCarthy told reporters afterward that he wants a meeting with President Joe Biden to talk about border-policy demands.

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--With assistance from Zach C. Cohen, Erik Wasson and Jennifer Jacobs.

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