A small but significant number of moderate GOP lawmakers are plotting a path toward potentially working with Democrats to fund the government past Sept. 30 and combat a shutdown.
At least three Republicans — Reps. Mike Lawler (N.Y.), Don Bacon (Neb.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) — have expressed an openness to joining Democrats in signing a discharge petition, a mechanism to force a vote on a measure against the wishes of the Speaker.
Four members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus introduced a bill Friday that reflects the group’s framework for a short-term stopgap funding measure. Fitzpatrick suggested Sunday that lawmakers could use a discharge petition to compel a vote on that legislation.
Five Republicans would need to join their party’s leaders in order to force action with Democrats.
Members of two other centrist blocs — the Republican Governance Group and New Democrat Coalition — have also been in touch about other ways to keep the government open, including through a continuing resolution, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Signing an opposing party’s discharge petition would be an act of political mutiny, so the increased public conversation — and support — surrounding the break-the-glass option underscores the pressure lawmakers are under as they race to prevent an end-of-month shutdown after the House GOP flailed on multiple spending fronts last week.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to get that bill on the floor,” Fitzpatrick said of his bipartisan bill on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “And we have multiple options. A discharge petition is one, one of several options. And a group of us met with the parliamentarian this past week to discuss all the options we have to force a vote on our bill.”
The talk of working with Democrats also reflects the struggle Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has had in quelling turmoil within his fractious conference.
But triggering the last-ditch option could spell trouble for the Speaker as hard-liners heighten their threats to confiscate his gavel if he works with Democrats to keep the lights on in Washington.
“If Speaker McCarthy relies on Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, I would call the Capitol moving truck to his office pretty soon, because my expectation would be he’d be out of the Speaker’s office quite promptly,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told reporters last week.
Gaetz, who has said he will never support a continuing resolution, also aired a warning to centrist Republicans mulling a discharge petition.
“If Republican moderates want to go team up with Democrats and sign a discharge petition to take over the floor with Democrats, well, they’ll be signing their own political death warrant, and they’ll be handing it to their executioner,” Gaetz said.
While a discharge petition would not be able to avert a shutdown at this juncture, it could help end one.
The blueprint moderates are eyeing would fund the government at current spending levels until Jan. 11, 2024. It also includes $24 billion for Ukraine and $16 billion for disaster relief and would give the Biden administration the ability to expel migrants who enter the country illegally. Additionally, the legislation calls for a commission to address and stabilize the federal debt.
Bacon told The Hill last week that he would sign a discharge petition if it is to force a vote on the bipartisan legislation, and Fitzpatrick told CNN over the weekend that “all options are on the table” to get the bill to the floor.
Lawler — who along with Fitzpatrick and Bacon represent districts President Biden won in 2020 — said he believes “at least five” Republicans would be willing to join the effort.
“I’ve sat through hours of meetings and negotiations with these folks over the last 72 hours, and they continually move the goalposts,” Lawler told Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last week of Republicans refusing to support a stopgap bill.
“As I’ve said, they don’t know how to take yes for an answer, they don’t know how to define a win, they don’t know how to work as a team, and so ultimately we’re left in a position where responsible people need to be the adults in the room.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) last week said he did not have “an opportunity to fully evaluate the framework” from the bipartisan group, and would not comment on the terms.
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), another moderate, would not explicitly throw his support behind the undertaking Friday but also did not close the door on the prospect.
“There’s a lot of good, potential remedies to next Friday or Saturday short of a shutdown, and we’ll be looking at those more closely when we get closer to the date,” Joyce said.
To be sure, using a discharge petition to force a vote on a bipartisan stopgap bill is a long-shot option. Republicans, as a whole, have been weary to endorse the procedural maneuver.
And it has strict requirements and time constraints.
All House Democrats — 213 members — signed on to a discharge petition in May, which leaders circulated as a way to force a vote on legislation to raise the debt limit and avoid an economic default. The escape hatch, however, was never used, meaning lawmakers can use the same petition — and all its signatures — to advance a government funding bill.
Even the signature of former Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who resigned from his post in June to lead the Rhode Island Foundation, is still viable.
But the petition is not ripe just yet.
At least five Republicans have to sign the petition, which would bring the number of signatures to the required number of 218. Once that happens, the petition would be referred to the discharge calendar. After seven legislative days, a member can call a motion to consider the discharge petition, which must take place on the House floor within two legislative days.
“We’re ready to go,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) told reporters last week of a discharge petition. “We need five Republicans, and we’re ready to go.”
The last successful discharge petition was in 2015, when lawmakers forced a vote on a bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank. Before that, a discharge petition hadn’t allowed a bill to hit the floor since 2002, when the House voted on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
McCarthy — for now — is denying that he has any concerns about his members teaming up with Democrats.
“I believe we have a majority here and we can work together to solve this,” McCarthy told reporters Friday. “This is the same place you were all asking me during the debt ceiling. So you know what, it might take us a little longer, but this is important.”