Chaos Rules House Republicans as McCarthy Fails on Key Vote

They ‘just want to burn the whole place down,’ the speaker says of the handful of conservative members of his caucus who are grinding the wheels of government to a halt. ‘That doesn’t work.’

AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Speaker McCarthy walks to his office just after House Republicans failed to advance their own defense bill for second time in a week, at the Capitol, September 21, 2023. AP/J. Scott Applewhite

With the government set to shut down in just 10 days, Speaker McCarthy has unexpectedly lost a vote to begin debate on this year’s Pentagon funding bill. It’s the latest example of the speaker’s struggle to manage the most basic functions of the House as he grapples with the far right of his caucus. 

The vote narrowly failed, 212–216, on Thursday morning, with six Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. Five conservatives voted against the bill due to spending objections, and the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Congressman Tom Cole, changed his vote to no from yes after it became clear the measure would fail so that he could bring the rule to the floor again. This is the second time House conservatives have halted debate on the Department of Defense appropriations just this week. 

Speaking to reporters shortly after the rule vote failed, Mr. McCarthy did not mince words about his five conservative colleagues. They “just want to burn the whole place down,” the speaker said just outside the House chamber. “That doesn’t work.”

After the vote’s failure, Mr. McCarthy met with conservative dissenters to discuss a path forward. Unfortunately for him, the holdouts would not budge, and Punchbowl News’s Jake Sherman reported that the House would be recessed for the remainder of the week. 

One of the five conservative opponents, Congressman Matt Rosendale, posting on his X account Thursday morning, said the appropriations bill was being used as a tool by the political establishment to advance unnecessary spending. 

“The critically important funding of our military is being used as a ploy by the DC Cartel to continue their out-of-control spending which is why I will be voting AGAINST the rule and the bill,” Mr. Rosendale wrote. “This is politics at its worst and is counterproductive and dangerous to our nation.”

Mr. Rosendale accused the House Republican leadership of trying to quickly advance the defense funding measure so that the conference committee — the body of both representatives and senators that tries to reconcile the funding and policy discrepancies between the upper and lower chambers’ respective bills — can rewrite the bill in such a way that will be unacceptable to House conservatives, only for Mr. McCarthy to force a vote with support from Democrats with just hours to go before a government shutdown. 

Another GOP objector, Congressman Eli Crane, said the practice of advancing short-term funding bills — known as continuing resolutions — and “omnibus” spending packages just before a government shutdown deadline must end. The congressman said that he is willing to let the government shut down if that is what is necessary for the House to write its 12 appropriations bills and pass them separately — something Mr. McCarthy agreed to do when he won the speaker’s gavel in January. 

“Congress is broken and Americans are tired of it,” Mr. Crane said on X. “Votes on CRs, omnibus bills and raising the debt ceiling should never take place. I’m going to do whatever I can to change the way this place works.”

Another no vote, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene — who voted for the rule when it failed just days ago — said she would not support any legislation that included funding for Ukraine. “I just voted NO to the rule for the Defense bill because they refused to take the war money for Ukraine out and put it in a separate bill,” she said on X. 

Ms. Greene’s demand for ending Ukraine aid — a sentiment that dozens of House conservatives share — will likely fall on deaf ears as the Senate and White House push for more than $20 billion in additional aid. 

“I was proud to welcome President Zelensky to the Capitol this morning and hear firsthand about the status of Ukraine’s counteroffensive,” Senator McConnell said on X, including a photo of himself, Senator Schumer, and the Ukrainian president. “American support for Ukraine is not charity. It’s in our own direct interests – not least because degrading Russia helps to deter China.”

The Senate seemingly has no interest in the cuts to aid that House conservatives are demanding. When the White House provided a classified briefing to members of Congress on Wednesday that detailed Ukraine’s counteroffensive, dozens of congressional Republicans signed a letter Thursday saying they would not support any aid to the besieged nation. Only six Republican senators signed that letter. 

Mr. McCarthy’s weeks of overtures to his conservative colleagues have won him few favors. The day the House returned from its six-week recess, the speaker announced the beginning of an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, something members like Ms. Greene have been seeking aggressively. Shortly after that announcement, conservatives said they still would not lift a finger to help Mr. McCarthy keep the government open. 

Just days later, on a Sunday night conference call, the speaker announced that a funding deal had been reached following negotiations between Congressman Byron Donalds of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Congressman Dusty Johnson of the moderate House Main Street Caucus. 

As Mr. McCarthy was explaining the deal to his colleagues, conservative members were posting online that they had no interest in it.

Correction: Five is the number of conservative colleagues about whom Speaker McCarthy did not mince words. The number was misstated in an earlier version.


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