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McCarthy Puts Off Spending Votes, Stymied in Efforts to Avert a Shutdown


House Republicans remained paralyzed on Wednesday as deep internal divisions left Speaker Kevin McCarthy with no immediate way to advance needed spending legislation, significantly increasing the chances of a government shutdown in 10 days.

Despite plans to move toward considering a stopgap funding measure that would keep federal agencies open through October, that effort was put on hold after a handful of hard-line Republicans on Tuesday blocked a separate Pentagon spending bill, dealing Mr. McCarthy an embarrassing defeat.

The interim spending measure that emerged from negotiations last weekend faces even greater opposition from Republicans than the military bill, and Mr. McCarthy and his allies decided to hold off rather than suffer a second consecutive setback on the floor, where they hold an exceedingly slim majority.

Mr. McCarthy said he could not yet commit to trying again Thursday as he and his lieutenants tried to regroup in search of a way out of the deepening impasse, with some Republicans seemingly dug in against any compromise. But the speaker said he was not ready to give up and seek help from Democrats, an option likely to set off an immediate effort by right-wing lawmakers to remove him from the speakership.

“Anytime we have an obstacle, let’s not quit,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters as he was pressed on how he intended to overcome the resistance from the far right. “Sometimes it takes longer than others. There were a lot of Republicans who said they would never vote for me as speaker either,” he said, referring to his January fight for the speaker’s gavel that took 15 House votes to decide.

But it was that battle that was coming back to haunt Mr. McCarthy, who appeared unable to satisfy the same band of hard-right rebels who had demanded concessions from him — including promises to rein in federal spending — in exchange for their votes to make him speaker.

While Mr. McCarthy tried to appear unflappable, smilingly shaking hands and greeting tourists in the Capitol Rotunda, his allies were growing increasingly frustrated by the opposition, accusing some on the right of “moving the goal posts” in an effort to undermine Mr. McCarthy and topple him from his post.

“It may be a situation where the personality clashes — few as they may be, but sufficient in number to make a difference — is what we are facing,” said Representative Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.

Other lawmakers close to Mr. McCarthy said the stalemate was costing House Republicans valuable leverage in the upcoming funding showdown with the Senate and the White House.

Representative Garret Graves, Republican of Louisiana, said Republicans were also putting themselves in position to take the blame for a shutdown despite their joint opposition to Biden administration policies.

“This is a disastrous administration,” he said. “And you’re having Republicans that are going down a path or are executing a strategy where they are going to take Joe Biden off the front page and slap their own mugs on it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Behind closed doors, lawmakers were exploring ways out of the deadlock even as many expressed growing pessimism about the prospects for avoiding a calamitous shutdown that both parties said they wanted to avert.

Representative Kevin Hern, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, was proposing a temporary funding bill that would set federal discretionary spending at $1.47 trillion, the prepandemic level that right-wing conservatives have been demanding. But it was unclear whether that change alone would satisfy them and allow Mr. McCarthy to move forward. And there was little chance that such a proposal could clear the Senate, where both parties have demanded a far higher funding level.

Given the stalemate, Mr. McCarthy intended to keep House members in town and voting at least through Saturday, lawmakers said, as he and his backers groped for a way out of the impasse.

“The speakers been talking to a lot of different people and he’s pretty good at pulling rabbits out of hats,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma and chairman of the Rules Committee. “My guess is we’ll see another rabbit.”

But one top ally of the hard-liners, Russell T. Vought, the president of the Center for Renewing America, said Mr. McCarthy either needed to embrace their position on lower spending and their push to challenge the Biden administration more aggressively, or face a threat to his job.

“We’re going to have a shutdown,” said Mr. Vought. “I think that’s a fundamental reality.” He added, “I don’t think his speakership will continue if he doesn’t move to unite his conference.”

The Senate on Wednesday reached a spending impasse of its own as Republicans defeated an attempt to overcome an objection by Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, to considering three bipartisan spending bills in unison. Republicans were reluctant to steamroll their far-right colleagues and perhaps set a precedent in overcoming the type of objections that empower individual senators.

But senators said the outcome would allow more negotiations with Mr. Johnson, and talks were ongoing to try to find a way to satisfy him and move ahead on the legislation that had broad support from both parties.

“I’m going to stay at the table,” said Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and chair of the Appropriations Committee. “I will keep working.”

Kayla Guo contributed reporting.



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