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Senate Republicans are predicting that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will need to reach out to House Democrats to get the votes to prevent a government shutdown at the end of next week.
GOP senators don’t think McCarthy will be able to unify his entire GOP conference behind any measure to prevent an Oct. 1 shutdown and will have to rely on Democrats to keep federal departments and agencies open.
But they predict the Speaker won’t reach out across the aisle until the last possible moment to avoid a backlash from House conservatives, who are threatening to offer a motion to essentially dump him as Speaker if he does not hew to their demands for major spending cuts.
The reality, they say, is that the only spending measure that can pass both the Senate and House is one that has bipartisan support.
“He’s a new Speaker, this is a test of his Speakership,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss party strategy. “Sooner or later he’s going to have to go to [House Democratic Leader] Hakeem Jeffries [N.Y.] because we’re going to get a CR on this side and what will pass here just is not going to get 218 Republicans in the House.”
After House Republicans scrapped a Tuesday vote because of divisions within their conference, Republican senators said they now expect the Senate to move first and approve a clean continuing resolution (CR).
The measure would have to pass with at least 60 votes in the Senate and then be sent to the House to avoid a government shutdown.
Under such a scenario, McCarthy would certainly need Democratic votes to make up for a small group of conservatives who have vowed to oppose any spending bill without steep spending cuts or reforms to U.S. asylum law or Department of Justice and Pentagon policies.
“The ultimate outcome will be 218 Republicans and Democrats [who] will pass something that doesn’t have conservative leaning to it,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, voiced concern about the looming government funding deadline.
“I hope they have a plan,” he said. “I have no idea how they get to where they need to go but they need to get there.”
Other Republican senators voiced frustration over McCarthy’s inability to pass a procedural rule necessary to approve the annual defense appropriations bill, legislation that has always been a signature achievement for the party that traditionally prides itself for being strong on defense.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the failure to advance the defense bill “very disappointing.”
“I’m going to leave it up to him,” Graham said of McCarthy, adding, “The world is a very dangerous place, and we need to get our national defense infrastructure well funded to deter aggression.
“The defense appropriation bill is sort of the heart and soul of the Republican Party that I’ve come to know and love, and it’s unnerving to see the defense appropriations bill not able to advance,” Graham said.
The defense bill stalled in the House Tuesday after five conservatives joined Democrats to defeat the rule that was needed to pass the $826 billion measure.
Republican senators are losing patience with McCarthy’s efforts to coax Republican colleagues to support the bills needed to keep the government open and fund the Pentagon and other priorities.
“I think we’ve got some folks that wear our label as Republicans that are really more populist than Republican, and at this stage of the game we’ve been relying on those folks to come around and work on some of these more conservative issues with us, like actually passing a budget, actually passing an appropriations bill, actually passing a defense bill. Clearly this is not of interest to them,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said of House conservatives who have derailed McCarthy’s efforts.
Rounds said it may be time for McCarthy to explore “other options,” such as finding votes on the other side of the aisle.
“If there are other options out there — I think there are reasonable people on the other side of the aisle as well,” he said. “That might be the way to let these populists know that they might put themselves in a position of not being very effective in the future.
“If you’re not going to be part of a solution, pretty soon people are talking to other individuals,” he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the demands of the House Freedom Caucus, such as cutting discretionary spending levels outside the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs by 8 percent, are unrealistic.
“They know it won’t fly over here,” she said, noting the deep spending cuts that House conservatives are insisting on won’t get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.
“It’s their message, and the problem is we need more than messages to keep the government open,” she said. “If it’s clear that the House is not going to be able to advance [spending bills], we’re going to have to figure out what exactly is [the Senate’s] role” to avoid a shutdown.
Another Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss McCarthy’s inability to pass spending bills suggested that conservative rebels are taking unfair shots at the Speaker to undermine his leadership.
“It’s really hard when you have snipers on your own team shooting at you from inside the perimeter,” the senator said.
The growing exasperation Senate Republicans expressed over the intraparty fighting in the House is shared by House GOP lawmakers.
“These five or 10 people, they failed us. And I’ll say that publicly,” moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told The Hill Wednesday morning. “They failed us; they failed the conservative cause.”
“They’re gonna push us in the minority unless we intervene,” he added.
Mychael Schnell and Emily Brooks contributed.