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The Republican vs. Republican feud behind the government shutdown fight, explained

A rundown on the factions involved in the disarray.



The Republican vs. Republican feud behind the government shutdown fight, explained
The Republican vs. Republican feud behind the government shutdown fight, explained

This month, due to House Republican in-fighting, the US government is on the verge of a shutdown yet again.

It’s clear Congress doesn’t have time to pass the bills it needs to in order to keep the government open before money runs out on September 30. At question is whether the House can pass a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution or CR, that’s acceptable to the House GOP caucus, Senate Democrats, and President Joe Biden in the time that’s left. Doing so would buy lawmakers the time they need to come to an agreement on longer-term funding bills while avoiding a shutdown.

The main hold-up so far is that the Republican conference can’t agree on what should be in the short-term bill: Although the GOP is broadly fiscally conservative, its far-right members are pushing for more aggressive spending cuts, the attachment of border security policies, and the omission of Ukraine aid.

The latest development in this impasse has been the emergence of a compromise cobbled together by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his leadership team. While some GOP lawmakers opposed to previous CR drafts have said they’d support it, it’s still unclear if enough members would ultimately back it.

McCarthy’s latest proposal is a short-term bill that would keep the government open for 30 days, establish funding levels at $1.471 trillion a year (much lower than the current $1.7 trillion levels), institute a more conservative border policy, and establish a commission to research ways to reduce the national debt. It does not include, however, either disaster aid or Ukraine aid, both of which the White House requested.

The compromise as written is pretty much dead on arrival in the Senate, which wants any CR to include Ukraine and disaster aid, as well as more spending. That means even if it quells House dissent for now, it will do little to avert a shutdown. Since Democrats control the upper chamber, they’ll urge for a “clean” continuing resolution, one that doesn’t have a ton of other policies hitched to it, such as immigration policies that conservatives have demanded. That eventual confrontation will force House Republicans to navigate their divides again.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the House GOP has a very narrow majority — if all of its lawmakers are present (and they haven’t been lately) Republicans have just four votes to spare. With House Democrats unlikely to back a bill that severely curbs spending, that gives small groups of GOP lawmakers outsize control over the CR process, and ultimately over whether the government shuts down.

Below are the different House factions taking advantage of that small majority and jostling for their policy priorities in spite of the looming shutdown deadline:

House Freedom Caucus

A conservative group that’s at the heart of the shutdown drama, the Freedom Caucus has been vocal about opposing any short-term funding bill that doesn’t address its demands. Those demands were made clear in a statement it posted in August, one that included a push for CR language that addressed the supposed “weaponization of the government” against conservatives, border security proposals, and measures to tackle what it called “woke policies” in the military.

Although the group’s membership is somewhat private, it’s believed to contain roughly three dozen members and therefore has the numbers needed to obstruct the passage of any compromise. Prominent members include Reps. Scott Perry (R-PA), Byron Donalds (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and Chip Roy (R-TX).

Previously, Freedom Caucus leadership was involved in the negotiation of another possible short-term funding deal, though it failed to gain the full backing of the group’s membership. The leaders involved, including Donalds and Roy, had emphasized the wins that the caucus secured in the deal, including major spending cuts and border security policies.

In the past, the Freedom Caucus has been known as the faction of the Republican Party that’s been willing to blow legislation up in order to make its larger point. Now that a few of its demands have been included in the latest continuing resolution proposals, at least some members have begun to signal that they’ll go along with their caucus’s leaders this time.

Rogue conservatives

Others who’ve been outspoken about the need for more curbs to spending are archconservatives like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of the members who is reportedly against the latest CR. Gaetz has at times balked at approving any CR at all because he argues that it won’t result in significant changes to longer-term funding as the US’s debt continues to grow.

Gaetz has also been one of the most vocal lawmakers threatening House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's leadership, complicating an already tricky situation for the speaker. Under caucus rules, any member of the House GOP is allowed to challenge the speaker’s leadership at any time, and Gaetz has said he will try to oust the speaker if he doesn’t cave to conservative demands for more enduring spending cuts. A majority of the House would have to vote to remove the speaker for it to actually happen, however.

Another prominent lawmaker in this camp is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who unlike Gaetz is seen as a McCarthy ally. She has pushed to ensure the CR won’t contribute to aid to Ukraine, a battle she’s appeared to have won in the latest version of the bill. Again, the Senate has forcefully noted it has no plans to pass any CR that doesn’t include Ukraine aid, raising the question of how Greene and those sympathetic to her stance on Ukraine will vote should the House be forced to compromise to avoid, or end, a shutdown.

Main Street Caucus

A self-described pragmatic group of about 70 lawmakers that includes the likes of Reps. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Stephanie Bice (R-OK), the Main Street Caucus says it’s committed to conservative principles, business-friendly policies, and productivity. Its members dislike being described as moderate and emphasize that they back conservative ideals but support a functional Congress. Although they also like spending cuts, the Main Street Caucus is less keen on a potential shutdown.

“Our caucus hates cliffs, we hate dumpster fires, we hate chaos. We aim to be the grown-ups in the room,” Johnson previously told Roll Call.

The Main Street Caucus was also involved in negotiations on the prior GOP spending deal, which Freedom Caucus leadership supported but rank-and-file members rejected. The version of the CR they advanced is now dead, though Main Street lawmakers largely appear to back the latest proposal as well.

The moderates

Increasingly, it’s looking as though one likely way out of a shutdown could be some form of compromise legislation between moderate Republicans and Democrats. McCarthy previously worked with Democrats on a budget deal that was supposed to govern the fall’s spending bill negotiations. That partnership wasn’t received well among the further right parts of the caucus, and should he try to work with Democrats again, McCarthy would risk one of his members starting the process to remove him from his leadership.

All that hasn’t stopped a couple of different groups from floating the idea of a bipartisan solution. That includes discussions by the center-right Republican Governance Group, which has roughly 40 members; the center-left New Democrat Coalition, which has more than 90 members; and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which has over 60 members.

This week, the Problem Solvers Caucus put forth a framework with its compromise ideas that included funding the government at the current levels through January 11, a border security proposal, disaster relief money, and Ukraine aid. While it is the sort of proposal that could feasibly be accepted by the Senate and White House, its disaster aid and Ukraine money will likely make it unacceptable to the more conservative members of the House GOP, sinking its chances of getting them on board.