Republicans pushing for a federal government shutdown are “stuck on stupid”, a party moderate said shortly before one rightwinger reported that the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, would not hold a vote on a bipartisan Senate plan advanced as a way to keep the government open.
“The American people elected a House Republican majority to serve as a check and balance and be able to govern,” Mike Lawler, a Republican from New York, a heavily Democratic state, told CNN.
“Some of my colleagues have, frankly, been stuck on stupid and refused to do what we were elected to do, against the vast majority of the conference, who have been working to avoid a shutdown.”
If no agreement to continue funding the government is reached by midnight on Saturday, many federal functions will cease. Employees can expect to be furloughed and the public left without key services.
Past shutdowns – most recently in 2013, 2018 and 2019 – have been stoked by Republican hardliners in Congress but have not paid off politically. The most recent closure was prompted by Donald Trump, then president, over immigration policy. The Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the 35-day shutdown at about $18bn and said $3bn was wiped off US GDP.
Nonetheless, Trump is now backing a shutdown again and on Wednesday Bob Good of Virginia, a hard-right holdout, told reporters McCarthy had said he would not allow a vote on the stopgap measure reached by senators the day before.
McCarthy is widely seen to be in a political vice, running the House with a five-seat majority, beholden to hardliners who in January forced him through 15 votes to become speaker and are now threatening to start proceedings to have him removed.
Moderates like Lawler, who was elected in 2022 in an unusually strong Republican showing in New York, are at most risk of losing their seats next year, when Democrats will seek to take back the House.
Lawler told CNN: “Two weeks ago, the speaker came forth with a proposal that would reduce spending by 8% in the 30-day continuing resolution, as well as enact most of the provisions of HR2 [a House bill] to deal with our border crisis,” Lawler said. “Unfortunately, folks like Matt Gaetz chose to oppose that for some ridiculous reason.”
Gaetz, from Florida and a vocal Trump supporter, has led the charge against McCarthy. On the House floor on Tuesday night, he said the US would soon see if the “failed” speaker would turn to Democrats to keep the government open.
“The one thing I agree with my Democrat colleagues on is that for the last eight months, this House has been poorly led,” Gaetz said. “And we own that, and we have to do something about it, and you know what? My Democratic colleagues will have an opportunity to do something about that too, and we will see if they bail out our failed speaker.”
Democratic and moderate Republican support could help McCarthy keep the government open – but it would almost certainly spell the end of his time as speaker.
On Tuesday, a source familiar with the thinking of moderate Republicans predicted the shutdown would “last about five days”, because a House rules committee block on a bipartisan deal meant it could only reach the floor on the first day of the closure, five days then being needed to get the deal to a point where “it will sail through both chambers”.
The same source said hard-right Republicans simply wanted “to burn the place down”, adding: “These are not serious people. They believe anything that [Joe] Biden wants is bad, but the margins are so thin that their votes count.”
Lawler said: “I’ve been very clear from the start, that I will not support a government shutdown, that we need to do everything we can to avoid one. Nobody wins in a shutdown. And in fact, the American people are going to be the ones that get hurt.”