After leaving another disappointing vote on the House floor, Speaker Kevin McCarthy told a group of reporters Friday that he has “nothing” in his back pocket with roughly a day left to avert a government shutdown.
The U.S. federal government will halt after 11:59 p.m. Saturday if a spending measure cannot be reached before the deadline, and House Republicans seem further than ever from reaching accord, with 21 GOP representatives joining their Democratic colleagues in a vote Friday afternoon to strike down a last-ditch stopgap bill drafted by McCarthy.
After the defeat, the speaker was followed by members of the media through the halls of Congress, according to a video posted by The Recount, with one reporter asking McCarthy what the “logical next step” was for the lower chamber.
“Keep working and make sure we solve this problem,” McCarthy responded.
Another reporter in the pack followed up the question with, “But what are we working on? What’s in your back pocket, speaker?”
McCarthy, with a smile on his face, responded, “Nothing. I’m broke.”
Sources familiar with a closed-door meeting between McCarthy and Republicans after Friday’s failed vote said the speaker told his caucus members that there were not many more options to avoid a shutdown, according to a report by CNN.
The Senate is working on passing a bipartisan continuing resolution (CR) that would fund the government until November 17, giving Congress a few extra weeks to work out the 12 spending bills that will fund the government into the next year. But hard-line conservatives have already criticized the bill, which includes an additional $6.2 billion in aid to Ukraine.
The Republican-backed bill that was struck down Friday included stricter policies on security along the southern border. Several House conservatives, including McCarthy, have made border safety a top priority amid spending bill negotiations, but House Democrats are unlikely to take up any bills that include such measures.
McCarthy is also facing pressure from far-right members of Congress who will likely deter him from trying to cut a deal with Democrats, with lawmakers like Representative Matt Gaetz threatening to oust the speaker. In a letter published Thursday morning, over two dozen members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus pressed McCarthy for answers on how he intends to advance spending measures in the next few days without relying on a CR.
Senate lawmakers headed for recess Friday evening following the House’s failed stopgap vote, with a procedural vote on the chamber’s short-term spending bill scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday. Republican Senator Rand Paul, however, has vowed to delay the bill from passing due to the additional Ukrainian aid.
The Biden administration has placed blame for the imminent shutdown on far-right House Republicans, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre telling reporters during a briefing Friday that President Joe Biden does not plan to meet with McCarthy in a last-ditch effort to negotiate.
“The people that McCarthy needs to talk to is his own caucus,” Jean-Pierre added. “That’s who he needs to have a conversation with, not the president.”
McCarthy, on the other hand, has blamed the likely shutdown on Biden’s policies along the southern border.
Newsweek reached out to McCarthy’s office via email Friday evening.