These Are the Key GOP Players in the Government Shutdown Fight

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As the government shutdown deadline approaches, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finds himself once again navigating treacherous political waters within his own party.

Tensions within the House Republican conference have erupted into a public spectacle, as the party grapples with internal divisions over spending. McCarthy, a lead negotiator in the high-stakes drama, faces the daunting task of rallying his caucus while dealing with aggressive opposition from within.

Spending discussions continued on Tuesday after three members of the House Freedom Caucus and three members of the more moderate House Main Street Caucus brokered a GOP plan over the weekend to extend current funding through Oct. 31. In exchange for the 31-day extension, the deal would include border security measures sought by conservatives and 8.1% spending cuts from all nondefense accounts except for the Department of Veterans Affairs and disaster relief. Such a deal—known as a continuing resolution (CR)—would give lawmakers an extra month to try to complete fiscal 2024 appropriations, though the proposal faced immediate backlash from more than a dozen GOP hardliners who felt Republicans are still spending too much and wanted to see more conservative policies attached.

During a closed-door GOP conference on Tuesday morning, several conservative lawmakers expressed a desire to revise the CR spending levels to more closely mimic numbers outlined by House Republicans earlier this year during debt ceiling negotiations, a House GOP aide familiar with the discussions tells TIME. Facing pressure to revise the top-line spending levels, McCarthy on Tuesday afternoon pulled a procedural vote on the interim government funding bill as GOP lawmakers, including Oklahoma Republican Rep. Kevin Hern, huddled inside Majority Whip Tom Emmer’s office to discuss a plan to slash spending to $1.471 trillion.

Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, told reporters that “at least a dozen” holdouts were inside the meeting in the whip’s office after the procedural rules vote was pulled from the schedule. Freedom Caucus chair Scott Perry, a Florida Republican who helped craft the CR proposal, said he’s open to making changes to it. “If you don’t do something, you aren’t going to get anything,” he told reporters.

Should House Republicans adopt the more fiscally conservative spending plan, it would likely be dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, triggering a political clash with less than two weeks to go before the Sept. 30 deadline to avoid a shutdown. 

House Republicans faced another setback Tuesday afternoon when five conservatives and all Democrats sank a procedural vote on a Pentagon funding bill. Those in opposition to the Pentagon appropriations bill—one of 12 that Congress has to pass—have demanded steeper spending cuts as part of the appropriations process.

Here is a look at the key negotiators in the spending fight that could lead to a government shutdown.

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House Speaker Kevin McCarthy

The spending talks are perhaps the most consequential for McCarthy, who faces calls from members of his own party threatening to oust him from his speakership if he doesn’t acquiesce to their demands. 

The California Republican says he is committed to avoiding a government shutdown: “We should show the American public our ideas and be able to pass them,” he told reporters on Monday. “We're going to be rational, responsible, and reasonable."

McCarthy can only afford to lose four Republican votes, but at least a dozen conservatives have signaled they would vote no on the proposed CR measure. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, McCarthy denied that he’s avoiding working with Democrats to avert a government shutdown if the House GOP plan to temporarily fund the government fails on the floor—a “plan B” option that some Republicans have floated this week.

McCarthy, who has held the speakership for just eight months, has come under fire from some of his own party members during nearly every major vote or legislative process this year.

“I won’t give up. I need two more members to come over,” McCarthy said as he exited the House floor following Tuesday’s vote. “I like a challenge. I don't like this big of a challenge, but we're just going to keep going until we fix it.”

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz

One of McCarthy's most vocal critics, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida has been launching attacks against the Speaker for months and has threatened to oust McCarthy from his speakership through a motion to vacate. Their public feud highlights the deep divisions within the GOP as it grapples with the spending fight.

Gaetz's critique of the GOP spending plan is centered around the use of a stopgap bill to give them more time. “I'm not voting for a continuing resolution,” Gaetz vowed on the House floor on Monday, urging Republicans to pursue single-subject spending bills instead. “We are approaching the days where we are facing two-trillion dollar annual deficits on top of a $33 trillion debt. This is unsustainable, and just to continue things with some facial 8% cut over 30 days will lead to no programmatic reform is an insult to the principles we fought for in January,” he said.

Gaetz's stance on the spending bill has been controversial among Republicans, with McCarthy and his allies countering that refusing to pass a CR could result in a government shutdown and harm national security.

Asked on Tuesday whether any progress has been made inside the whip’s office, Gaetz responded: “No.”

Texas Rep. Chip Roy

Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a conservative stalwart and member of the Freedom Caucus, played a pivotal role in crafting the CR spending plan. He lashed out against the “so-called conservatives” opposing the deal—like Gaetz—during Tuesday’s GOP press conference. 

“Go explain that you're voting against a 30-day, 8% cut to the federal bureaucracy while having a piece of legislation attached to it that is the strongest border legislation ever passed,” he said. “Explain how you oppose border security… that is a dream bill dealing with the crisis at the border.”

“I didn’t come to preen and posture on Twitter, I came here to figure out how to save this country,” Roy added.

Florida Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds, a member of the Freedom Caucus who was part of the GOP group that struck a deal on the CR bill, now finds himself in the crossfire of the GOP's internal strife. 

In a social media exchange, Donalds urged Gaetz to be transparent about his plan, saying, "Matt, tell the people the truth… What’s your plan to get the votes to defund Jack Smith? You’ll need more than tweets and hot takes!!"

Donalds' involvement underscores the complexity of the debate within the Republican caucus and the different approaches lawmakers are advocating to address the looming government shutdown.

“Politics, it can get brutal sometimes,” Donalds said on Monday as he left McCarthy’s office. “That’s just part of it.”

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the firebrand Georgia Republican, said that she wants to make sure none of the funds made available by the CR will be used to provide financial or military assistance to Ukraine, a new Federal Bureau of Investigations headquarters, or COVID-19 vaccine mandates. 

Walking out of the whip’s office on Tuesday, Greene said negotiators are “making progress” on removing Ukraine funding but added, “We aren’t anywhere close to getting anything accomplished.”

New York Rep. Mike Lawler

A Republican freshman, Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, has emerged as a vocal critic of the hardline conservative demands on spending, expressing frustration with his colleagues and referring to their approach as "stupidity." 

Lawler has contemplated working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown, highlighting the growing divide within the Republican Party as it grapples with how best to address the matter.

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