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Congress Avoids a Shutdown
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Congress Avoids a Shutdown

After pushing through a last-minute stopgap measure to keep the government open, Kevin McCarthy’s speakership may be at risk.

Happy Monday! Among those anxiously anticipating a government shutdown were former President Jimmy Carter’s birthday party planners at the Carter Library, who moved the 99-year-old’s celebration up a day in case the government ran out of money. Although we’re happy Carter’s birthday went off without a hitch this weekend, we’re even happier that the National Park Service’s annual Fat Bear Week contest is still on! 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić on Sunday denied reports that he’d been amassing Serbian forces near the Kosovo border last week in possible preparation for offensive action. The alleged buildup followed clashes in Northern Kosovo earlier this month, when approximately 30 heavily armed ethnic Serbs started a gunfight with Kosovo police that killed four people—three of the gunmen and one police officer. After the fight, Kosovo authorities recovered a cache of weapons sufficient to arm several hundred people as well as explosives and other equipment. “Serbia does not want war,” Vučić said, reiterating the country’s aim of becoming a European Union member. A Kosovo Serb politician based in Serbia, Milan Radoičić, claimed Friday that he helped plan the attack without the knowledge of the Serbian government. U.S. officials called on Serbia to demobilize its troops, and the United Kingdom, at the direction of NATO, announced Sunday that an additional 200 troops will be deployed to Kosovo to bolster the peacekeeping mission in the country.
  • Ukraine hosted a forum on Friday for more than 200 defense companies in a bid to work directly with arms manufacturers, boost Ukraine’s fledgling defense industry, and reduce reliance on Western arms shipments. The German government approved a joint venture last week between a German weapons company and Ukraine’s state-owned defense group. French officials and manufacturers also met with Ukrainian defense officials on Thursday to discuss partnerships for weapons production. 
  • ​​The Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of inflation, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, increased 3.5 percent year-over-year in August, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Friday—up slightly from a 3.4 percent annual rate one month earlier. But after stripping out more volatile food and energy prices, core PCE increased at a 3.9 percent annual rate—compared to 4.3 percent in July. On a month-over-month basis, core prices were up 0.1 percent—the slowest monthly increase since November 2020. Consumer spending, meanwhile, increased 0.4 percent month-over-month in August, down from 0.9 percent in July.
  • Rep. Dean Phillips—a Minnesota lawmaker who co-chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee—announced yesterday that he would step down from his leadership role on the committee. “My convictions relative to the 2024 presidential race are incongruent with the majority of my caucus, and I felt it appropriate to step aside from elected leadership to avoid unnecessary distractions during a critical time for our country,” he said in a statement. Phillips has called for a primary challenge to President Joe Biden and has publicly contemplated running against the president.
  • A federal judge blocked provisions of North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban on Saturday. The preliminary injunction halted enforcement of a requirement that surgical abortions administered beyond 12 weeks—allowed in cases of rape, incest, life-limiting abnormalities or to save the life of the mother—must be performed in a hospital, not abortion clinics. The ruling also blocked enforcement of a provision requiring doctors to document early pregnancies with an ultrasound before prescribing a medication abortion.
  • Scott Hall—a Georgia bail bondsman involved in an attempt to illegally breach voting equipment in search of evidence of fraud—pleaded guilty on Friday and became the first defendant in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump and 18 others to make a deal with prosecutors. Hall pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor counts and received a sentence of five years probation, a $5,000 fine, and 200 hours of community service. Felony charges were dropped as part of the deal, which also required a written letter of apology to the state and Hall’s testimony against others in the case. Meanwhile, a federal judge denied a request on Friday by Jeffrey Clark—a former assistant attorney general at the Justice Department—and three other defendants in the case to move their trials to federal court.
  • The United Auto Workers expanded their strike last week for the second time, instructing 7,000 more workers to walk off the job at a General Motors plant in Michigan and a Ford factory in Chicago as progress in contract negotiations with car manufacturers stalled. In total, 25,000 workers are now on strike—approximately 17 percent of the union’s 146,000 members.
  • The more than three-year-long pandemic pause on student loan payments ended yesterday, and payments will resume for millions of Americans this month. The Department of Education has instituted a year-long “on-ramp” for loan repayment where “financially vulnerable borrowers who miss monthly payments during this period are not considered delinquent, reported to credit bureaus, placed in default, or referred to debt collection agencies.” 
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the longest-serving woman in Senate history, died at the age of 90 on Thursday night. California Gov. Gavin Newsom is reportedly planning to appoint Laphonza Butler to fill the late senator’s vacant seat. Butler is the president of Emily’s List—a political action committee that funds female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights—and a former California labor leader and adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign. The seat will be up for election next November, and Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee were all already running to replace Feinstein before she died. Newsom said last month that he would intentionally not appoint one of the current candidates as it “would be completely unfair” to their campaigns.
  • Gen. Charles Q. Brown succeeded Gen. Mark Milley as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday. Biden nominated Brown back in May, and he was confirmed by the Senate last month—he begins a four-year term in the post.

A Shutdown Averted 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks with members of the media following passage in the House of a 45-day continuing resolution on September 30, 2023. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks with members of the media following passage in the House of a 45-day continuing resolution on September 30, 2023. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

It was a weird week on Capitol Hill. But hey—what’s new? 

On Friday, we thought the most bizarre moment of the week might be Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, rising in opposition to a heretofore unthinkable Republican-led continuing resolution (CR)—a stopgap measure to keep the government funded before all 12 appropriations had passed—to warn that the bill’s GOP backers wanted to “defund the police.” 

But that Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass effort was nothing compared to what ensued on Saturday, when a sitting Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, pulled a fire alarm in a very-much-not-on-fire House office building, in what seemed to be a stalling tactic to give his caucus time to read a different, Republican-backed CR to fund the government through November 14. (He claimed, rather absurdly, that it was an accident.) 

But perhaps the craziest thing of all to emerge from the Hill this week was a funded government. In a turn of events almost no one saw coming, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made an end run around his conference’s hardliners and reached across the aisle for Democratic help to pass a CR to fund the government for 45 days—putting at risk, at least theoretically, his speakership. With about 30 minutes left before the clock struck 12:01 on October 1, the beginning of the 2024 fiscal year, President Joe Biden signed the measure that passed the Senate earlier that day. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, McCarthy’s primary antagonist, has promised to trigger a “motion to vacate”—which would kickstart a process that could result in McCarthy’s ouster—but how exactly that will unfold is unclear.

As the clock ticked down toward the September 30 deadline—and lawmakers watched their hopes of catching that Friday afternoon flight back to their districts dwindle—Congress was awash with last-ditch continuing resolutions. The Senate on Thursday moved forward with a bipartisan CR that would have funded the government until November 17, and included funding for Ukraine aid. Facing pressure from members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC), McCarthy ruled out bringing that CR to the floor.

So Friday, Republicans forged ahead with a surprise and unconventional CR that would have kept the government open until the end of October, but which would have cut nondefense spending during that time by around 30 percent and included significant portions of H.R. 2, a Republican immigration bill. A more-robust-than-expected group of 21 Republicans tanked the bill, with help from Democrats like Wasserman Schultz. The bill’s GOP opponents included Gaetz and his gang of “Never-CR” compatriots, plus a few wildcards, like South Carolina GOP Rep. Nancy Mace. New York Rep. Mike Lawler—one of the 18 Republicans representing districts Biden won in 2020—blamed “party of one,” Gaetz, saying “he’s not a conservative Republican, he’s a charlatan.”

Saturday had even more surprises in store. Unbeknownst to the public, McCarthy had Friday night cooked up a CR that didn’t include the drastic cuts of the day’s earlier effort, nor the partisan border policies unlikely to get Democratic support. The measure was a CR of the traditional ilk—funding the government at current levels for 45 days, at which point the House and Senate have to have passed the required bills or we go back into shutdown watch. It also included disaster aid, but left off aid for Ukraine, which would have been a poison pill for half of McCarthy’s conference. 

With 10 minutes left in debate on McCarthy’s proposal, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries used his “magic minute”—a quirk of House procedure that allows party leaders to speak as long as they wish, unlike rank-and-file members whose speeches are scrupulously timed—to give his caucus time to read the CR and decide how to vote. “So strap in, because this may take a little while,” he said, to whoops and laughs in his caucus. He spoke for just under an hour. 

And when it was finally time to vote, McCarthy got more Democratic votes than Republican ones and the bill passed 335-91. “I’m sure every bet you had was ‘government was going to shut down,’” McCarthy told reporters Saturday after the bill’s passage. “But one thing you should start understanding: Not just that I will never give up, but that I’m the type of conservative that wants to get things done.” 

McCarthy, whatever one might say about him, has shown a remarkable ability to “never give up.” And the dynamics of this fight have been baked in since January, so this week is just “déjà vu all over again” for McCarthy and the country. To win over the 20-or-so HFC and other anti-McCarthy elements and become speaker of the House, McCarthy vowed to pass all 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2024 individually, instead of jamming the bills together in what’s called an “omnibus spending package.” Opponents of those mega-bills-of-bills say they discourage debate—since very few people can read the 4,000 pages worth of appropriations–and make it more difficult for lawmakers to vote their consciences if there are only a few provisions in the massive package they find objectionable. But they’ve often become necessary as a way to fund the government quickly and forestall a shutdown. 

With that point—and several others, including lowering the threshold to introduce a motion to vacate to just one vote—conceded, McCarthy took the gavel after an incredible 15 ballots. When that same faction reared its head in the spring, holding the U.S. debt hostage over government spending, McCarthy cut a deal with President Biden and the Democrat-controlled Senate. But the agreement—the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), which capped nondefense spending and suspended the debt ceiling until 2025—left some budget and deficit hawks, and other longtime McCarthy enemies, feeling like they “got rolled.” That deal, like Saturday’s CR, got more Democratic votes than Republican ones. 

That sentiment helps explain the battle that’s played out over the last several weeks. Fiscal hardliners and obstructionists insist the current funding bills be written to even lower levels than agreed to in the FRA, and have refused to pass anything that didn’t move the needle toward that goal—something that may continue to slow the process of passing (and reconciling with the Senate) the other 8 bills they need to fund the government before mid-November. 

Hardliner anger also explains what’s about to play out, as at least some Republicans move to boot their party’s speaker who they think is behind the “rolling.” Gaetz wasted no time in signaling he’d move to oust McCarthy. “I do intend to file a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy this week,” Gaetz told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday morning. “I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid.” HFC Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina* called the CR “a surrender.” Another Gaetz ally, Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, concurred: “You can’t form a coalition of more Democrats than you have Republicans who you’re supposed to be the leader of, and not think that there’s going to be serious, serious fallout,” he said.

Despite the Gaetz Gang’s protests, they may not be that unhappy in their betrayal, as lobbyist and former GOP Senate operative Liam Donovan told The Dispatch’s Mike Warren last week. “That’s really what Matt Gaetz and those guys want, is to force McCarthy into that position where he has to betray them,” he said

Ironically, in order to find the votes to remove the speaker, Gaetz would have to rely on Democrats—who would likely outnumber Republicans in any voting to show McCarthy the door. Gaetz has reportedly made overtures to the House Progressive Caucus asking for their backing. “We’re not saving the speaker,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of that caucus, told Politico over the weekend. 

But Jayapal notwithstanding, it’s not clear Democrats would condemn McCarthy for his sin of making a deal with Democrats. It is, however, crystal clear that Gaetz doesn’t expect them to. “I actually think Democrats are going to bail out Kevin McCarthy,” Gaetz told ABC’s Jon Karl Sunday. “So, this is an exercise to show the American people who really governs you and how that governing occurs.”

There are also several procedural steps between a motion to vacate and the actual removal of the speaker, including some that could easily close the question in McCarthy’s favor. “I expect the next week to reveal two things,” Donovan said Sunday. “One, that the motion to vacate makes for a better sword of damocles than a guillotine; and two, Gaetz doesn’t really care because once again he wins by losing.” 

McCarthy didn’t seem terribly bothered by the threats to his job on Saturday after the vote. “If someone wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” he said. “There has to be an adult in the room.” 

Worth Your Time

  • The grueling fighting in Ukraine, with advances often measured in yards, has recalled the trench warfare of the First World War. But the conflict is also on the vanguard of the future of war. “With thousands of Ukrainian and Russian drones in the air along the front line at a given time, from cheap quadrocopters to long-range winged aircraft that can fly hundreds of miles and stay on target for hours, the very nature of war has transformed,” Yaroslav Trofimov writes for The Wall Street Journal. “‘Today, a column of tanks or a column of advancing troops can be discovered in three to five minutes and hit in another three minutes. The survivability on the move is no more than 10 minutes,’ said Maj. Gen. Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy commander of Ukraine’s HUR military intelligence service. ‘Surprises have become very difficult to achieve.’” The ubiquity of drones has reshaped how forces gain ground, replacing rapid armored vehicle breakthroughs with slower, smaller forrays by soldiers on foot. “In June, as Ukraine kicked off its counteroffensive, every time its forces gathered more than a few tanks and infantry fighting vehicles together, their columns were quickly spotted by ubiquitous Russian drones and then targeted by a combination of artillery, missiles fired from choppers and swarms of drones,” Trofimov writes. “After initial heavy losses of Western-supplied tanks and fighting vehicles, Ukrainian troops have now switched to operating in small groups that are ferried toward the front line using armored personnel carriers, and then attempt to advance one tree line after another.” The Ukrainian experience is valuable for Western militaries out of practice with such broad conflicts. “The bloody war fought by Ukraine is the kind of conflict that the U.S. military hasn’t experienced since Korea in the 1950s,” Trofimov notes. “Modern Western military training and defense procurement have been shaped by decades of counterinsurgency operations against much weaker opponents in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. That has led to a focus on costly and sophisticated weapons systems that don’t survive long in a full-scale conflict with a comparable adversary.”

Presented Without Comment

NBC News: Rep. [Jamaal] Bowman under investigation for pulling fire alarm as McCarthy compares it to Jan. 6

Also Presented Without Comment

Rep. Ken Buck to CNN: “The weaponization of government committee, the impeachment of the president are all distractions that will make sure that the base is excited, make sure the base is donating money, make sure that people don’t focus on the dysfunction that we have with a speaker that promises something different to a lot of different groups and can’t deliver.”

Toeing the Company Line 

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew outlined Nikki Haley’s and Tim Scott’s collision course, Nick argues (🔒) donors attempting to draft Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for the GOP presidential nomination are entertaining a fantasy, Jonah warned about soft utopianism, Chris argued (🔒) Republicans are setting themselves up for a crisis of overconfidence, and Harvest explained the three options lawmakers faced this weekend to avert a shutdown.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah Ruminated on the Biden impeachment inquiry, the trainwreck GOP debate, and why fighting for Nazis is bad. 
  • On the site over the weekend: Victoria reflected on Hispanic Heritage Month, Tyler Hummel explained the end of the writers’ strike, and Dan Kaplan detailed the plight of the NFL running back.
  • On the site today: Drucker examines the rise of Gavin Newsom and Thomas Harvey and Thomas Koenig make the case for filibuster reform.

Let Us Know

Do you think House Democrats will back Gaetz’s effort to oust McCarthy?

Correction, October 2, 2023: This newsletter incorrectly identified the home state of South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman.

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Mary Trimble

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

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Grayson Logue

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.