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House Speaker McCarthy appeals for bipartisan support with a stopgap measure

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

At this hour, the House is in session, and votes are going on. At issue, of course, is the regular operation of the federal government. Federal agencies were to shut down at midnight after Congress failed to approve regular funding bills. The holdup was among Republicans in the House between a group of hard-liners and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. But this morning, the speaker said he would move a bill with help from Democrats.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: We will put a clean funding stopgap on the floor to keep government open for 45 days for the House and Senate to get their work done.

SIMON: NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Big reversal for the speaker. What's in his plan? Can it work to avoid a shutdown for at least 45 days?

ELVING: There's a chance it could. It could get the votes it needs in the House today by adding some Democrats to the portion of the Republican majority that is still loyal to McCarthy. That's what we've been waiting for. And because this is an unorthodox move, it's not been through the normal process and rules. McCarthy will need the support of two-thirds of all the members voting, so not just some bipartisan support, but robust support in both parties. And we know a lot of conservatives are still saying no. And we don't really have a count on the Democrats. They may want to sign on because they want to avoid a shutdown and because McCarthy's plan does use current spending levels, no big new cuts. And it also has a sweetener in the disaster money that the White House asked for. But there are going to be other Democrats saying no because there's no new money for Ukraine. So huge reversal for the speaker after all this battle in his own party. Now he's reaching across the aisle. We'll see how many votes he gets.

SIMON: Why had the speaker been unwilling to work with - how do I put this up for you? How do - why was it that the speaker was willing to work with Democrats in June to raise the debt ceiling but not before today when it came to funding the federal government?

ELVING: The difference in June was that the debt ceiling was more widely understood to be a crisis, a serious threat to the well-being of the U.S. economy with implications around the world. Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans were more motivated to reach a deal before that debt deadline because they accepted it as real and consequential. So that time, McCarthy struck a deal with President Biden, and he allowed a bipartisan vote on it. And that deal actually wound up with more Democratic votes than Republican. Of course, that only angered and embittered McCarthy's critics on the right, including some of the rebels who had opposed his elevation to speakership way back in January. So they vowed revenge, and they took their chance this month when the House needed to be passing the bills that would fund the federal functions beyond the end of the fiscal year, which is tonight at midnight.

So this time around, McCarthy's been reluctant to reach out for those Democratic votes because his critics say if he does, they will force a vote to remove him as the leader of the Republican Party. And the Senate's got an endorsed bipartisan compromise that would keep the government open a while and provide time for more negotiation. And that could be brought to the floor and possibly pass with Democratic support. But again, that would trigger the vote to remove him.

SIMON: Yeah. House Republicans did find time this week to open hearings on impeaching President Biden. Did it seem to convince the undecided?

ELVING: Well, the first impeachment inquiry hearing did happen this week, did not make a lot of news because it did not contain much that was new. The House members who were driving this process seemed to be playing a movie in their heads called "The Biden Crime Family." But it's not a movie most of the country has ever seen. We're told it's based on a true story, but we have yet to see the movie as they describe it. And this week's event included a well-known law professor, Jonathan Turley, who has testified in hearings before, often pleasing the Republicans who called on him to testify. But this time, he said he had yet to see evidence to justify impeachment. And that seemed the opposite of what they wanted to hear.

SIMON: Senator Dianne Feinstein died this week at the age of 90 after serving more than 30 years in the Senate, first became a national figure following the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco. She became mayor then and enlisted a lot of sympathy and respect, didn't she?

ELVING: All but overcome with emotion herself, she toughed it out, went before the cameras with the news and then took the reins of a city that was in shock and in mourning. That was 45 years ago, a lifetime ago. And in the interim, she led a breakthrough for women in the Senate and became the longest-serving woman in Senate history. She has earned her rest.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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