Speaker Kevin McCarthy began the final day before a government shutdown is tied to the ropes, facing dim prospects of passing any stopgap funding measures to avert the crisis, which took effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
He still made it on the ropes, defying expectations and passing a spending bill in mid-November to keep the government open — but was forced to turn to Democrats to pass legislation that his opponents denounced as a Republican capitulation.
In between, there was a game of chicken over competing spending bills between the House and Senate, a fire alarm pulled by a progressive Congress on Capitol Hill, and a 50-minute filibuster by the House minority leader as Democrats bid for more time. They are Mr. Rep. Matt Gates of Florida and his hard-right allies have called for a vote to oust the speaker to find out if they want to help pass McCarthy’s plan.
“If anyone wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” said Mr. McCarthy said at a news conference that the stopgap spending bill passed 335 to 91, with more Democrats than Republicans supporting it. “There must be an adult in the room.”
For several weeks, Mr. McCarthy resisted that role, instead cajoling demands from right-wing lawmakers who were willing to shut down the government to make the point that Washington was broke and federal spending was out of control. Mr. In McCarthy’s turn, he — a crowd-pleasing California Republican who often reacts to events rather than driving them — is unwilling to avoid a shutdown and spare his party the political backlash that will surely follow.
“If you run it, you’re going to fail,” said Republican Rep. Patrick D. of North Carolina. McHenry and the speaker’s longtime sound team announced the shutdown earlier in the week. “It’s been tried before.”
So after suffering a landslide defeat on Friday, when right-wing lawmakers joined with Democrats to defeat the ultraconservative temporary spending bill, Mr. McCarthy decided to try a different approach. Gathering Republicans in the basement of the Capitol on Saturday morning, as a shutdown seemed inevitable, he surprised his members by announcing he would try again.
Some of the policy proposals that Republicans have been clamoring for, including tighter immigration controls and steep spending cuts, are unlikely to be supported by Democrats.
Mr. McCarthy’s promise in January is also gone. Instead, members were given about an hour to read and vote on a 71-page bill they had never seen before. And it will be considered under special rules that require a two-thirds majority for passage, meaning it cannot be ratified without substantial democratic support.
It was not certain.
“We’ll find out,” said Mr. McCarthy said when asked if he had the votes to pass it. “I like to gamble.”
Mr. McCarthy was in a hurry. He wanted to pass the measure before the Senate voted to advance a bipartisan stopgap measure that would include $6 billion for Ukraine. Amid growing Republican opposition to funding Kiev’s war effort, Mr. McCarthy’s bill added nothing to his temporary spending bill.
Blind Democrats were outraged by it all, complaining that it took more than an hour for the Republican speaker to review the bill presented to them.
“These guys lie like a carpet,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “I don’t trust them.”
As he left the Democratic Caucus meeting, Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York said, “The idea that we have to take the word of radical American MAGA Republicans who lie to the American people at every turn, is a travesty in Congress.
On the floor, Democrats used rules to buy time to read the bill, calling for the House to adjourn so they could force a lengthy vote that would effectively halt action on the floor. At the Cannon House office building across the street, a fire alarm sounded, prompting an evacuation.
Rep. Jamal Bowman, a progressive Democrat from New York and a former president in constant shouting matches with far-right Republicans, was caught on camera sounding the alarm, which he later said was an accident.
Republican senators watched the drama from the other end of the Capitol, weighing their options. If the House passes a stopgap bill without aid to Ukraine, they don’t want to vote on a measure that includes the money, which some Republican senators also oppose. They, too, halted action on the Senate floor, saying they planned to vote against the Senate plan.
A group of hard-line GOP House members, including Reps. Bob Good of Virginia, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Matt Rosendale of Montana, made a rare visit to the Senate, where they jumped on the floor with Republican senators and encouraged them to hold back. No action until the House has had a chance to vote on its own bill.
Across the rotunda, House Democrats continued to play for time as they gathered on the Capitol basement to weigh whether to support the stopgap bill. Mr. Jeffries used what is known as the “Magic Minute” for MAGA Republicans.”
But if Democrats oppose the bill, Republicans will say they care more about sending money to Ukraine than funding the U.S. government. They hailed the move as a victory and decided to claim credit for forcing the GOP to drop their massive proposed spending cuts and tougher border restrictions and avoiding a shutdown.
When the referendum was called, 209 Democrats voted for it, more than 126 Republicans. As the final vote was recorded, both sides of the chamber cheered in a rare bipartisan moment on the deeply divided House floor.
Mr. Mr. McCarthy, who in recent days has called him the weakest speaker in history. Engaged in an amicable exchange with McGovern and said that calling his convention a clown show was an insult to real clowns.
But Mr. McCarthy, realizing that he was putting himself at considerable political risk, did not stick around long. He quickly sent Republicans to adjourn the House, but left the Senate little choice but to pass the stopgap measure — and right-wing rebels can’t build an immediate movement to remove him.
At a news conference after the bill was passed, leaders were still reeling from the twists and turns that averted a crisis. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, no. 3 Republican described the experience as “riding a mechanical bull all week.”
Mr. McCarthy, for his part, praised himself for doing the right thing, as opposed to the rebels, who he said had no choice but to partner with Democrats.
“I’m a conservative who likes to get things done,” said Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s easy to be a conservative who doesn’t want to do anything.”
As the House adjourned over the weekend, many Americans — including millions of federal workers and military personnel who braved unpaid work — breathed a sigh of relief that the government would not shut down.
But Mr. McCarthy’s fate was more of an open question than ever, as his opponents would soon move to impeach him.
“He allowed the DC uniparty to win again,” said Mr. Pix X wrote earlier on Twitter. “Should he remain Speaker of the House?”