Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Friday evening floated passing a “clean” continuing resolution without Ukraine aid, marking a clear shift in the possibilities he is willing to consider to avert — or end — a shutdown after being repeatedly undercut by his own party.
The Speaker on Friday did not commit to putting such a measure on the floor, and other Republicans leaving a conference meeting said lawmakers are still exploring GOP-only possibilities to bring up for a vote on Saturday.
But it is clear that McCarthy has nearly exhausted his options for working exclusively within his own party. Earlier on Friday, 21 House Republicans voted against a 31-day GOP-crafted stopgap bill that included deep spending cuts and conservative border policy changes.
“I think if we had a clean one without Ukraine on it we could probably be able to move that through,” McCarthy said after a lengthy GOP conference meeting on Friday when asked about a clean continuing resolution. “I think if the Senate puts Ukraine on there and focuses Ukraine over America, I think that could cause real problems.”
The Senate is considering a separate, bipartisan continuing resolution that would fund the government until Nov. 17 and includes $5.99 billion for disaster relief and $6.15 billion for Ukraine — a figure that has drawn criticism from Republicans in both chambers.
And Senate leaders appear to have little incentive to strip the Ukraine funding. The Senate bill overwhelmingly cleared two procedural hurdles with support from both sides of the aisle. And in the House, more than two-thirds of the chamber — all Democrats and a little less than half of Republicans — voted in favor of a separate $300 million Ukraine funding measure.
McCarthy earlier this week told his members that he would not bring the Senate bill to the floor in its current form. Hardliners were frustrated that the legislation did not include border security provisions, and they took issue with the Ukraine aid.
House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said that one option is bringing a clean CR plus disaster relief funding up under suspension, a mechanism that fast-tracks consideration of legislation but needs two-thirds support to pass. The mechanism is traditionally used for non-controversial bills.
McCarthy said that he has talked with Democrats about a stopgap, but that they would not support what he floated.
“I proposed to put a clean one up, but the Democrats won’t vote for it so that would be a shutdown but I’m working through maybe be able to do that,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s comments came after a lengthy meeting on Friday evening that ended with no solidified course of action for scheduled Saturday votes.
Government funding runs out Saturday night ahead and a shutdown appears likely.
Members said that multiple paths forward were discussed, including options for adjusting the House GOP stopgap bill in a way that might win enough support to pass and whether something that came out of the Senate may be viable.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who supported the stopgap bill on Friday, said the closed-door GOP conference meeting did not go well.
“I think the Speaker has basically surrendered to the Senate,” Good told reporters.
“He wants to do a CR,” Good said at a separate part of the conversation. “I don’t know if he’s gonna do a clean CR or the Senate CR but it’s not gonna be a good CR.”
House leaders, according to multiple GOP members, still plan to go back to the 21 Republicans who tanked the conference’s own short-term funding proposal earlier in the day and see how many could flip to support it after some tweaks — and after seeing a proposed course of action to finish considering regular full-year House spending bills.
It is unclear whether any fixes to a GOP-only plan could win them over. While some holdouts said they wanted answers from leadership on the rest of the year’s funding bills, a significant chunk of the holdouts on the House GOP plan have said they will reject any continuing resolution.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), however, did tell reporters that the number of holdouts on a GOP stopgap decreased from 21 to nine after seeing a proposed appropriations bills schedule in the meeting.
“The consensus was to try to get the Senate something rather than just be on the receiving end,” Norman said.
“People just realize the reality of accepting what the Senate does,” he added, “which is not gonna be good for the country.”
Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Texas), one of the 21 holdouts, said that solidifying a timeline for the rest of the appropriations bills would get the conference “pretty close” to getting agreement on a GOP stopgap.
What is clear is that House Republicans will no longer leave Washington for the next two weeks for a scheduled recess as they work through the funding issues and shutdown.
Some Republicans think a shutdown is a foregone conclusion at this point.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say that tomorrow at midnight, you know, the lights are gonna go out for a while,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), an appropriator, told reporters following the meeting.
And a small contingent of GOP lawmakers are content with that reality. During the meeting, McCarthy asked members if they are okay with a shutdown and about 10 members raised their hands, according to a House Republican.
McCarthy, though, said he does not think a shutdown is a forgone conclusion.
And the Speaker rejected the idea that his party sinking a GOP-only stopgap was a failure.
“The CR didn’t pass, but it’s just like in life if you quit after the first time,” McCarthy said. “It’s only a failure if you quit.”