As House Republicans spilled out of a closed-door meeting Wednesday night, it was clear that things hadn’t gone well. Members gave wildly varying accounts of the proposal that’s being cobbled together to keep the government open ahead of Friday’s shutdown deadline.
Most importantly: Do they have the votes to pass a bill?
“I don’t know,” said Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania. “I don’t think anyone knows.”
By the dozens, members quickly shuffled to the House chamber for an unrelated vote. The leadership’s whip team scurried about the floor, taking the temperature on a number of proposals to see which one could land them the coveted number of 218 votes.
There are many different options and questions for GOP leaders.
Will the bill be a clean continuing resolution keeping the government open through January 19? Would a FISA extension be attached or separate? What about a CHIP extension? Would the disaster aid be separate? How much for defense spending?
“They have a kaleidoscope of different things going on,” Costello said.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was seen having an intense exchange with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus on the floor. Leadership is set to meet again Wednesday night.
FISA and defense spending
One especially thorny issue tripping up the GOP leadership is whether to add a three-week extension of the surveillance program that collects intelligence on non-US citizens to the stopgap bill.
“We need to keep FISA off the bill,” said Ohio’s Rep. Jim Jordan, a key player in the House Freedom Caucus.
Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas told reporters “there’s obvious disagreement by particularly people on the defense side” with a short term spending bill but that leaders would continue to work to find a way forward.
Republicans who argue the military is suffering from a string of temporary funding fixes have said they’ve had enough of punting and want to give the Pentagon a full year budget. They’re incensed the Senate won’t accept their plan, arguing that standoffs with North Korea and tensions in the Middle East warrant putting a priority on military money.
A Republican member and leadership aide both confirmed that House Speaker Paul Ryan told members in the conference meeting Wednesday night that Secretary of Defense James Mattis supported a short-term continuing resolution with defense anomalies attached, but it wasn’t clear that satisfied defense hawks.
Asked if he’s confident the conference can muster the votes to avoid a shutdown, Womack said there wasn’t much appetite to close the government. “I don’t think that our conference, given the victory we’ve just taken on tax, will risk a shutdown.”
Still, members expressed concerns about timing and sending something to the Senate that could pass before midnight Friday.
Republicans aren’t expected to make any concessions to Democrats, meaning they need as many Republican votes as possible. But for every piece of the puzzle they resolve, there’s a group of Republicans unhappy.
And if they don’t come up with a Plan B?
“Uh, we’ll be here,” said Rep. Chris Collins of New York.
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