Right-Wing Rebels Block Defense Bill Again, Rebuking McCarthy on Spending

Right-Wing Rebels Block Defense Bill Again, Rebuking McCarthy on Spending

Right-wing House Republicans dealt another stunning rebuke to Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday, blocking a Pentagon funding bill for the second time this week in a vivid display of G.O.P. disunity on federal spending that threatens to lead to a government shutdown in nine days.

Just hours after Mr. McCarthy signaled he had won over some of the holdouts and was ready to move forward, a handful of Republicans broke with their party to oppose the routine measure that would allow the military appropriations bill to come to the House floor for debate, joining with Democrats to defeat it.

It was a major black eye for Mr. McCarthy, who has on multiple occasions admonished his members in private for taking the rare step of bringing down such votes, known as rules, proposed by their own party — a previously unheard-of tactic. And it signaled continuing right-wing resistance to funding the government, even after the speaker had capitulated Wednesday night to demands from hard-right Republicans for deeper spending cuts as part of any bill to prevent a shutdown.

By Thursday afternoon, lawmakers were flying home for the weekend, scrapping plans to stay in session to pass spending legislation after a week in which they were unable to make any progress toward resolving their impasse.

“This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down,” Mr. McCarthy said on Thursday. “It doesn’t work.”

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a member of Democratic leadership, said he had never before seen a speaker lose a rule vote so many times — three times in four months, and twice this week alone — something that had not happened for two decades before Mr. McCarthy assumed the post.

“I don’t quite understand this,” Mr. Clyburn said of Mr. McCarthy’s strategy, before suggesting he consider cutting a deal with the top House Democrat that could pass both chambers and keep the government open. “My advice is, ‘Go sit down with Hakeem Jeffries.’ If he’s got a solid majority of his caucus. Why wouldn’t he? This is the tail wagging the dog. That’s not the way to do it.”

But Mr. McCarthy is keenly aware that if he were to turn to Democrats for help funding the government, he would face a right-wing effort to remove him from his post.

The final vote was 216 to 212 against the rule to allow the military spending measure to proceed. All Democrats voted against it, given their opposition to the funding levels in the bill and other provisions that were added by Republicans who say they need to eliminate “woke” policies in the military.

Joining in the Republican defections were Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Eli Crane of Arizona, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Rosendale of Montana. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Rules Committee and an ally of Mr. McCarthy, ultimately voted “no” as well so that he would have the ability to request that the vote be reconsidered, a step he took immediately after it was defeated.

But with the House in chaos, leaders quickly asked for a recess to regroup, and it was not clear when they would try again. Mr. McCarthy and his top allies spent the rest of the day in closed-door meetings with members of various factions of the conference, desperately trying to find consensus on what was ultimately nothing more than an attempt at a messaging bill. The spending cuts they were negotiating had no chance of passage in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The legislation they were toiling to unite behind, even if passed, would not stave off the impending government shutdown.

In a sign of the complex and confounding resistance Mr. McCarthy is facing within his own party, the group of defectors on Thursday was slightly different from the five who broke with the G.O.P. to oppose the same measure two days earlier.

Ms. Greene, who has emerged as a McCarthy ally in this Congress and supported the debt ceiling bill he negotiated with President Biden, on Tuesday had voted with her party on the rule. But she said online that she voted against it on Thursday because it contained funding for the war in Ukraine.

“Our Defense bill should not fund our DOD for blood money for the Ukraine war, that’s why I’m a NO,” she wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Ms. Greene was also aligned with hard-right Republicans who made it clear they planned to stand in opposition to Mr. McCarthy’s latest stopgap funding proposal, even after he bowed to their demands for steep spending cuts that stood little chance of surviving in the Senate. The group, which included at least seven Republicans, appeared to be large enough to defeat it given the party’s tiny majority, which allows for no more than four defections if all Democrats vote in opposition.

Ms. Greene’s vote Thursday morning came just hours after former President Donald J. Trump weighed in for the first time on the spending fight, using his social media website to encourage Republicans to vote against a temporary funding measure to avert the shutdown of a government he accused of being weaponized against him.

“They failed on the debt limit, but they must not fail now,” Mr. Trump wrote, referring to right-wing opposition to the deal Mr. McCarthy made with Mr. Biden to avert a federal debt default.

It was not clear what Mr. McCarthy, who had originally ordered members to stay in town through Saturday to pass spending legislation, would do next. He huddled in his office on Thursday afternoon with members of his leadership team. In recent days, he has been relying on Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, the chairman of the Main Street Caucus, for counsel in the spending crisis.

The latest blockade by the far right was a surprise, coming the morning after an hourslong meeting of the entire Republican conference that the speaker and his allies described as respectful and productive. They emerged Wednesday night from the basement of the Capitol claiming that the fractured conference was inching toward some consensus.

Mr. McCarthy said Wednesday night that two of the Republicans who had voted on Tuesday to block the Pentagon spending bill from being debated — Representatives Ken Buck of Colorado and Ralph Norman of South Carolina — had been brought in line and that the vote could proceed.

The pair did switch their positions on Thursday and vote for the measure, but Ms. Greene and Mr. Crane flipped to “no,” negating the gain.

Democrats, who have become accustomed to disarray on the other side of the aisle, were nonetheless flabbergasted on Thursday morning when they realized the vote was going to fail after Mr. McCarthy tried a second time.

“Just really a collapse,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. “There really isn’t any leadership. You know, you have to provide direction; you have to provide leadership, as difficult as it may be.”

But the problems with the defense measure were only the most immediate challenge. On Thursday, a group of hard-right Republicans made it clear that they would oppose any stopgap funding plan, no matter what Mr. McCarthy offered them. The group included those who blocked the military spending measure — Mr. Biggs, Mr. Crane, Mr. Rosendale, Mr. Bishop — and others, including Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, the ringleader of the Republican opposition to Mr. McCarthy’s plans.

Representative Tim Burchett, Republican of Tennessee, compared passage of a stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution to feeding a drug addiction and said he did not intend to back one under any circumstances as he ridiculed a suggestion that the party needed to come up with a better label for the legislation.

“We’re going to keep passing the C.R., and guess what? We are going to pass another C.R.,” he said. “Then somebody will come up with an idea: ‘Let’s change the name.’ That is ridiculous. That is arrogance, and that needs to change.”

Representative Anna Paulina Luna, Republican of Florida, wrote defiantly on the X platform: “I saw what happened with the debt ceiling. I saw what happened with negotiations & the senate. HOLD THE LINE #NOCR”

Luke Broadwater and Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

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