Shutdown averted: Political winners and losers

The House and Senate cleared a “clean” stopgap spending bill on Saturday, averting a government shutdown and capping off a chaotic three weeks in the Capitol that brought Washington hours away from a lapse in funding.

The continuing resolution funds the government at current spending levels until Nov. 17 and provides $16 billion in disaster relief.

 It does not include any funding for Ukraine — which the White House and Democrats sought — or GOP provisions addressing border security, two items that had been central to government funding fights of the past month. Members of both parties criticized the lack of Ukraine aid, and conservatives howled about border security being left on the cutting room floor.

Here are the political winners and losers from the first quarter of the funding fight.


Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

McCarthy will surely take heat from hardline conservatives for putting a clean stopgap on the floor, and he dealt with weeks of turbulence from within his own conference.

But McCarthy proved those in both parties who predicted a shutdown wrong. And he got one of his biggest articulated conditions for the stopgap: No aid to Ukraine.

McCarthy secured swift agreement from Congressional Democrats and the Senate on the plan he unveiled just Saturday morning, and he avoided the upper chamber jamming the House with a stopgap that included Ukraine aid.

 “I think Speaker McCarthy has been magnificent. He’s pulled a rabbit out of the hat a couple of times best I can count,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.

The majority of House Republicans supported the clean stopgap, and he protected them – and himself – from bearing the blame for a shutdown.

And he is calling the bluff of those threatening to oust him through a motion to vacate the chair, when it was 21 hardline Republicans who sunk a far more conservative stopgap plan and kneecapped his attempt to extract concessions on border policy.

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

Ukraine aid opponents

Hardline conservatives did not get many wins from the clean stopgap, but getting Ukraine aid out of it was a clear victory.

More lawmakers in Congress support Ukraine than oppose it, but the Senate and House Democrats — and Senate Republicans who ardently back Ukraine aid including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — agreed to a stopgap without money for Kyiv hours before the funding deadline to avert a shutdown.

More than half of House Republicans opposed a $300 million Ukraine funding measure earlier in the week, putting GOP leaders in a tricky spot to approve the billions more that the White House has requested.

Middle ground

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

The funding fight was a mixed bag for the Senate GOP leader who have said throughout recent weeks and months that a government shutdown was a bad idea with no winners — something he has learned multiple times during his time in power. 

Congress avoided a shutdown, but at a major cost to McConnell personally as he has been the most outspoken top Republican in support of aid for Ukraine in their ongoing war with Russia. The Kentucky Republican has visited the war-torn nation and had been on the diplomatic front lines pushing for Sweden and Finland’s inclusion in NATO.

McConnell is known for being well-attuned to the feelings of his conference, and many of them wanted to move on the 47-day stopgap funding bill. He followed suit, with many pro-Ukraine members promising a fight for robust support for the nation ahead of the mid-November deadline to keep the government’s lights on. 

Congressional Democrats

Democrats in both the House and Senate wanted to avoid a government shutdown — and they got their wish on Saturday.

But the caucuses also took a hit by having to clear a stopgap bill that did not include funding for Ukraine, which has been a key priority for the party and was included in a supplemental request from the White House.

“I’m disappointed and I’ve made my disappointment, made clear to Mr. McCarthy and others that leaving Ukraine out was bad policy and a bad message,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said ahead of Saturday’s vote. “It’s a bad message to Putin and it’s a bad message to the Ukrainians. So I think it’s a mistake.”

The decision by Democrats to support the bill is what put McCarthy’s proposal over the finish line — saving the Speaker from what would have been an embarrassing defeat and averting a shutdown that he would have been blamed for, which Democrats likely would have relished in.

But it also saved them from taking any of the blame that could have come their way from voting against a clean CR.

President Biden

Similar to Democrats on Capitol Hill, Biden wanted to send more money to Kyiv, especially after he hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House last week. The White House included $24 billion in a supplemental request over the summer.

The exclusion of the funding is a bruising loss to the president, who has made support for Kyiv a priority throughout his term. But in the end, the stopgap bill staved off a shutdown which the president wanted — especially amid his sagging poll numbers — even though he was likely ready to use the lapse in funding as a cudgel to go after House Republicans.

And Biden was able to stay on the sidelines during the tumultuous funding fight, protecting him from taking any serious political hits amid the House GOP infighting and chamber-versus-chamber battle.


Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)

Gaetz has for weeks threatened to make a motion to oust McCarthy if he put a “clean” CR on the floor, and been the most vocal opponent of any kind of stopgap measure.

But ahead of the vote on Saturday, Gaetz indicated that such a move was not imminent, telling reporters he was focused on averting a shutdown by advancing full-year appropriations bills.

He also earned more enemies over the week, with his GOP colleagues calling him out by name after a GOP-only stopgap failed – and it is not clear what he gained.

“There’s only one person to blame for any potential government shutdown, and that’s Matt Gaetz,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said on Friday. “He’s not a conservative Republican. He’s a charlatan.”

Fiscal conservatives

Fiscal conservatives in the House have for months been looking to the government funding deadline as their opportunity to force deep spending cuts and policy concessions.

They lost that fight miserably.

After 21 conservatives sunk a GOP-only stopgap bill, McCarthy ditched partisan strategies and rolled out a stopgap bill that continues funding at current levels, turning longtime conservative worries into reality. It cleared the chamber with more support from Democrats than Republicans.

Fiscal conservatives did, however, get agreement from GOP leadership for further spending cuts across the 12 regular appropriations bills, and a schedule to consider more of them through October that includes a canceled two-week recess. All of that funding will still need eventual agreement from the Senate, though – and the conservatives fear they will get rolled again.

Ukraine funding

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Washington, D.C. and met with congressional leaders just a week ago. But in a major blow to the Biden administration, supporters of funding were not able to push a bill through. 

With opposition to Ukraine funding ticking up among House Republicans, the move raises questions about how funding will move forward in the future.

McCarthy said Sunday that the Biden administration needs to come talk to Republicans about what victory would be in Ukraine, and to ensure that the aid is accounted for.

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