With no clear strategy, no sure support and not much time left to prevent a government shutdown, Speaker Kevin McCarthy nevertheless vowed on Wednesday he would not give up trying to convince his colleagues to pass a temporary funding bill through the House.
But lawmakers watching and waiting for the beleaguered leader to deliver are looking at other options.
The Republican speaker insisted as he arrived at the Capitol for another grueling day of negotiations that he still had time to win over hard-line conservatives and keep the government funded before money runs out before the end of the month.
“It’s not September 30 — the game is not over,” McCarthy told reporters.
But even if McCarthy is able to accomplish the seemingly impossible and unite his all-but-ungovernable House Republican majority around a conservative spending plan, the victory would be short-lived. The hard-right bill, with steep 8% cuts to many services, would be rejected by the Senate, where Democrats are in control but even Republicans reject the House GOP's severe reductions.
Across the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., opened the chamber trying to push ahead with a bipartisan plan.
The Senate was preparing to hold a test vote on Wednesday to try to overcome its own hard-right flank of GOP senators who are trying to prevent consideration of a popular bipartisan package of defense and military appropriations bills. The GOP senators are joining House Republicans in fighting for steeper reductions.
"It’s yet another reminder that in both houses, a small group of hard-right Republicans are dead set to grind the gears of government to a halt," Schumer said.
McCarthy has suffered a series of setbacks this week to his plan to advance Republicans' spending plans, testing his grip on power amid calls for his ouster.
In defiance of the speaker, a group of five GOP lawmakers from the right-wing House Freedom Caucus joined with Democrats to prevent consideration Tuesday of a usually popular defense bill. The bill would provide pay raises for the troops and other measures, but Republicans want a broader discussion on spending cuts in non-defense-related budgets.
The House floor is essentially at a standstill, with no business related to the looming government shutdown being conducted, as McCarthy, of California, tries to regroup.
The speaker had hoped to rally Republicans around a stopgap bill that would fund the government for the next month as talks continue. The temporary bill would accomplish some of the conservatives' goals — by slashing many government services 8%, while sparing defense and veterans accounts.
The package McCarthy is trying to push through the House also proposes a long list of conservative policies for immigration and border security that are widely embraced by Republicans.
But the conservative holdouts also want McCarthy to commit to keeping the funding cuts in place longer, for the full year.
“Members are taking this bull by the horns, doing what leadership failed to do to try and chart a best path forward on how we can get to 218 (votes),” said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., who is a part of the House Freedom Caucus.
As a group of GOP lawmakers huddled for another day Wednesday in the Capitol trying to work out a plan that would gain the 218 Republican votes needed for passage, others are reaching across the aisle to Democrats to try come up with a bipartisan solution.
Two centrist groups, the New Democratic Coalition and the Republican Governance Group, are having their own conversations on how to solve this impasse, according to a person familiar with the talks who insisted on anonymity to discuss them. Their groups together make up 145 members.
Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., who chairs the New Democratic Coalition, said on Tuesday she was hoping that a coalition of “roughly an equal number” of Republicans and Democrats would emerge to support a continuing resolution.
“These are the people that are making public statements that a shutdown is not good for the country,” she said.
Also at stake is President Joe Biden’s request to provide an additional $24 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine in its war with Russia that some lawmakers want to add to the must-pass bills needed to fund the U.S. government.
Meanwhile in the Senate, a robust bipartisan group of senators was trying to push ahead on their own package of three appropriations bills to kickstart the process.
Senators from both parties had been trying to show strength as they prepare to negotiate with the House on government funding. But Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican allied with the House Freedom Caucus, had halted the Senate's progress by raising an objection.
It will take 67 votes in the 100-member Senate to move forward on the appropriations package, but it remained unclear Wednesday whether enough Republicans would support the effort as the parties dig in for a fight.
It's not the only Senate fight as senators are reeling from Schumer's decision to do away with the chamber's stuffy dress code, in a nod to Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who has preferred wearing casual clothes while working to recover from a stroke and depression.
Fetterman on Wednesday upped the ante: “If those jagoffs in the House stop trying to shut our government down, and fully support Ukraine, then I will save democracy by wearing a suit on the Senate floor next week,” he said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick and Farnoush Amiri contributed reporting.