Congress has averted a shutdown with just hours to spare, capping a dramatic day that started with a lapse in government funding appearing all but inevitable.
The Senate voted 88-9 to pass a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government at current levels through Nov. 17 and gives the Biden administration $16 billion it requested to assist victims of natural disasters. The House had earlier passed the measure in a bipartisan 335-91 vote.
The CR notably lacks any funding for Ukraine, spending cuts or border policy changes.
The bill now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature before midnight, with both sides claiming victory.
“Bipartisanship, which has been the trademark of the Senate, has prevailed. And the American people can breathe a sigh of relief,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
The vote came together after a hectic day on both sides of the Capitol, one Schumer described as full of “twist and turns.”
House Republicans huddled in the morning and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — having exhausted all options to pass a GOP-only stopgap plan — made a sharp shift in strategy and announced the clean CR, dealing a blow to hardline conservatives who have stymied leadership at every turn in recent weeks.
On Friday, 21 Republicans sank the House GOP’s own stopgap that included steep spending cuts and border policy changes. Leaders tried to see if they could adjust the plan to secure support from the hardliners, but were left with six holdouts who refused to support the measure — enough to tank any partisan bill in the narrow majority.
“Let me tell you, today wasn’t a choice we wanted to have. We tried to pass the most conservative stopgap measure possible,” McCarthy said after Saturday’s vote. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have 218 Republicans.”
But it wasn’t immediately clear the measure would get the Democratic votes it needed to pass.
A several-hour standoff of dueling delay tactics ensued with Ukraine aid as the key sticking point.
House Democrats attempted to stall a vote on the CR — which contained the majority of their demands, with the exception of funding for Ukraine — in the hopes the Senate would move first on its own clean CR.
Republicans in the upper chamber countered with their own tactics, stalling — and eventually scrapping — a planned procedural vote on the upper chamber’s bipartisan clean bill that included Ukraine funding and disaster relief. Instead, they deferred to the House’s legislation.
They noted that if Schumer had opposed the House bill, GOP members were set to brand the potential shutdown as one created by the Democratic leader despite the issues created by conservatives throughout recent weeks.
After weeks of dread and hours of delays, things started moving very quickly.
Senate Republicans went all in with their chips on the House’s stopgap measure. In the House, only one Democrat voted against the bill and it sailed through.
“I’m really always optimistic, and I was really pessimistic until about an hour ago,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told reporters shortly after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters about the GOP plan. “I think it shows that the No. 1 priority is no shutdown and what a disservice it is.”
Only nine Republicans voted against the funding bill in the Senate: Sens. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Mike Braun (Ind.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.), Mike Lee (Utah), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Rand Paul (Ky.), Eric Schmitt (Mo.) and J.D. Vance (Ohio).
Multiple Senate Republicans acknowledged that Saturday marked the first time in months that they and their House colleagues were on the same page.
They also pointed to the key roles Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) played in recent days in trying to get the sides to sing the same tune as GOP leaders attempted to back Democrats into supporting the 45-day measure.
Mullin, a six-term House member prior to his Senate win last year and is an ally of McCarthy, was spotted speed-walking back and forth between the two chambers numerous times in recent days.
Averting a shutdown has major ramifications for government operations and the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
It ensures military service members are paid, that no federal workers will be furloughed, food assistance programs will continue uninterrupted, national parks will remain open and travel will not be impacted.
But the fight over government funding is sure to continue as each chamber works to pass 12 full-year appropriations bills.
Senators are expected to reconsider their efforts to pass funding packages with three appropriations bills included at a time, also known as a “minibus.”
House Republicans have vowed to move their bills one at a time through regular order, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing so far. The chamber has passed four full-year bills, but hardline conservatives have also forced leaders to delay votes multiple times and tanked procedural votes to advance legislation — an exceedingly rare occurrence — twice earlier this month before striking a deal with leadership to move several bills forward.
Adding to the looming tension, the House and Senate are crafting their appropriations bills at different spending levels. The Senate is sticking to the caps agreed to by President Biden and McCarthy in a debt ceiling deal earlier this year, while hard-line conservatives have pushed the House to craft bills at far lower levels.
In addition, Senate Republicans who are staunchly behind a new tranche of funding for Ukraine believe they will have a better chance at moving that through Congress next month. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters that he is hopeful to advance a supplemental centered on aid for Ukraine and border security that can potentially garner enough support from House Republicans.
Lawmakers in support of Ukraine argued they will only have one chance in these spending fights to win funding for their continued war against Russian aggression, and that there’s enough money to tide over Ukraine until mid-November.
“Nobody wants to help Ukraine more than I do,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters. “You’ve just got to do it in the way to get the most votes to make it sustainable. A lot of Republicans say, ‘I can’t vote for Ukraine unless I do something about the border,’ which makes sense to me. So let’s do that.”
Senate Democrats, however, were unnerved by McConnell’s decision to back away from the Senate’s bill, especially after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent visit to Capitol where he pleaded with leaders to greenlight funding for the war.
“McConnell and others have walked away from the deal that they had agreed to,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) lamented to reporters about the Ukraine funding state of play.
It also prompted a last-minute snag as Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) held up a vote on final passage over the exclusion of Ukraine funding. Bennet told reporters that he felt it was necessary to send the message that members are still fighting for Ukraine.
“I know how important moments are like this for the United States to lead the rest of the world,” Bennet said. “There’s nobody else to lead this. … We cannot fail.”
Schumer said in his floor remarks that he and McConnell “have agreed to continue fighting for more economic and security aid for Ukraine.”
Senate negotiators had discussed attaching a border security-related amendment to the body’s spending proposal in recent days, but it never came together because the provisions likely wouldn’t have been strong enough for House conservatives.
The other open question hanging over Saturday is whether House GOP hard-liners make good on their threats to oust McCarthy for putting a clear CR on the floor.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has for weeks been threatening to make a motion to vacate the chair – a move to force a vote on ousting the Speaker – if McCarthy brought up a clean CR, and several other Republicans have openness in supporting that move. Whether it would succeed would depend largely on House Democrats.
But a defiant McCarthy dared his detractors to make a motion to vacate the floor as he pushed to keep the government up and running.
“If somebody wants to remove [me] because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy told reporters Saturday morning. “If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that.”
Emily Brooks contributed.