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In a vote that almost no one saw coming, the House of Representatives voted Saturday, September 30, to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for 45 days, provide $16 billion in disaster assistance, and temporarily extend the National Flood Insurance Program. The bill also extends funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for the duration of the CR allowing the Department of Health and Human Services to make Q1 2024 payments to the states. It also authorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate through December 31, 2023, ensuring that if efforts to reach an agreement on a full year CR fail on November 17, the FAA will be able to operate through the end of the year.
126 Republicans joined 209 Democrats to keep the government running. 90 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted against the measure. Asked how this happened, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) explained it better than anyone. “There was an outcry from rank-and-file that want a [continuing resolution]. We’re tired of [f ’ing] around with these whack jobs,” he said. Following the drama in the House, the Senate passed the bill and President Biden signed it in a few hours.
The House vote was a surprise to almost everyone following the last-minute drama to fund the government. It was widely dismissed as a possibility because it was believed to guarantee that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would lose his job as Speaker of the House. Under House Rules agreed to by Speaker McCarthy to get his position, any one Member of Congress can offer a privileged “motion to vacate,” which if passed, would require a new vote – likely a long series of votes, to find a new Speaker.
But after more than a year of placating every conceivable demand of a small minority of his party, Speaker McCarthy had enough. “We’re going to do our job,” he said before the House vote. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open.” Asked if he was concerned about being removed, he was defiant. “If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try.”
A vote on McCarthy’s speakership could come at any time. In January, Speaker McCarthy agreed to change the House rules to allow just one member to make a “motion to vacate.” This rule was originally included in the “Jefferson’s Manual” of procedures adopted in 1837 but rarely used. The new rules make a motion to vacate “privileged,” requiring it to be brought to the House floor without being referred to the Rules Committee, which a sitting Speaker could use to kill it. A simple majority of the House would then be required to pass the motion and remove the Speaker.
Assuming all Democrats vote for Majority Leader Hakim Jefferies (D-N.Y.), the Republicans would need 218 votes, leaving Speaker McCarthy with only four votes to spare. But for every two Democrats who vote Present, one Republican rebel would be offset. Since McCarthy could easily lose 10-20 votes, as many as 40 Democrats would be required to save his Speakership. For Leader Jefferies to sanction that, more compromises from the Republicans would be needed. The more they compromise, the fewer Republicans are likely to stay in line. “As much as he’s a good guy,” one House Democrat told Punchbowl News, “we’re going to exact 1,000 pounds of flesh.”
Complicating matters even further is the role that might be played behind the scenes by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has reportedly cautioned colleagues that McCarthy can’t be trusted to keep his promises and should fight for his job without the support of Democrats.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on ABC News This Week that he plans to offer the motion to vacate on Monday, Oct. 2, forcing a vote by Wednesday, Oct. 4. One option for supporters of Speaker McCarthy would be to move to table the motion, essentially allowing Democrats to vote against Gaetz rather than for McCarthy. This may be Speaker McCarthy’s best path to keeping his job, at least as long as the Democrats believe he is acting in good faith. The only thing we know for certain is that there will be no shortage of drama in the weeks ahead.