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Catastrophic shutdown averted as McCarthy sides with Democrats over far right in his own party

The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass a funding resolution and keep the federal government open on Saturday after Speaker Kevin McCarthy ended his attempts to work with far-right hardliners and instead cut a deal with Democrats.

After several weeks of negotiations and pitched battles in GOP caucus meetings and the press, Mr McCarthy took the most likely option and averted a government shutdown that would have likely cost the US economy millions of dollars and have been politically damaging for his own party. Now, he faces the prospect of governing over a Republican House caucus where his authority is weaker than ever before.

Dozens of Republicans opposed the measure but were unable to clear the 1/3 margin necessary to defeat the resolution under suspended House rules. Conservatives in his caucus were fuming openly to reporters while their Democratic colleagues celebrated during the vote. The final tally on the 45-day measure was 335-91 in favor of the measure; more Democrats than Republicans ended up supporting it in perhaps the clearest view of Mr McCarthy’s tough spot.

2023 shutdown battle - Live coverage:

The measure must be passed by the Senate before it is signed into law by the president and officially halts the prospect of a shutdown. But the Senate is likely to do so without incident, with funding for Ukraine’s defence being the only sticking point (and one that will likely be addressed in the coming days).

Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, offered a simple commentary as he left the floor following the vote: “We won.”

“I’m pleased Kevin McCarthy finally backed down and put a bill on the floor that would win overwhelming Democratic support,” added Brendan Boyle, another Democrat, from Pennsylvania.

Those sentiments are likely to be shared by the wider Democratic caucuses on Capitol Hill, and will enrage conservatives who have viewed this latest battle as just another instance of Mr McCarthy going back on his word from January, when he cut deals with the House Freedom Caucus to assume the speakership.

Don Beyer, a northern Virginia Democrat whose district is home to many federal workers, was also plain in his assessment.

“I am relieved that Speaker McCarthy folded and finally allowed a bipartisan vote at the eleventh hour on legislation to stop Republicans’ rush to a disastrous shutdown,” he said.

Matt Gaetz, the leader of the far-right GOP contingent opposed to Mr McCarthy’s efforts to keep the government open with short-term measures, spoke to reporters on the steps of the Capitol just before the vote was to take place. He and other conservatives such as Tim Burchett, also present, seemed to acknowledge that GOP leadership would have the votes to pass it and remained pessimistic about the future of Mr McCarthy’s speakership.

When asked by The Independent if there was any path forward to working with the speaker going forward, Mr Gaetz demurred from the overt threats to unseat Mr McCarthy, but left the possibility wide open.

“I've said that whether or not Kevin McCarthy faces a motion to vacate is entirely within his control, because all he had to do was comply with the agreement that he made with us in January,” Mr Gaetz responded. He then issued a warning: “Putting this bill on the floor and passing it with Democrats would be such an obvious blatant and clear violation of that. We would have to deal with it.”

Mr McCarthy later responded in his own comment to reporters outside the chamber.

“If somebody wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” he said. “There has to be an adult in the room."

Others GOP holdouts who voted against the measure were less acerbic than Mr Gaetz but agreed with the assertion that Mr McCarthy was an inherently weak leader who had just made things worse for himself.

“We keep throwing up a new plan du jour every few minutes,” Tim Burchett told The Independent. “That’s not leadership.”

“We’re playing checkers against some chess players.”

Hakeem Jeffries, the House Democratic leader, held a press conference at the conclusion of the vote. He predicted that going forward, Mr McCarthy would need to continue cutting deals with his party in order to perform the basic functions of government — assuming, of course, that the Speaker remained in the chair.

“What we have seen is that no spending bills will happen without Democratic support,” he told reporters.

The Democratic leader also pilloried the GOP for crumbling in its opposition so rapidly.

“We went from devastating cuts that would have impacted the health safety and economic well being of the American people and 24 hours [later] to a spending agreement that meets the needs of the American people across the board, entirely consistent with what Democrats have said from the very beginning,” he noted triumphantly.

Republicans now have 45 days to pass longer-term budget measures to operate the government for the 2024 year. Those budgets have already hit their own set of roadblocks in the House, and are destined to run up against a Democratic-controlled Senate and White House that will likely demand changes.

All in all, the chamber could very well face another shutdown deadline this year unless Congress, specifically House Republicans, are able to pass legislation that can actually win support from the rest of the legislative branch.