“He’s not here, we are": House Republicans ice out Trump, look to make a deal with Democrats

A looming shutdown deadline leaves the GOP in disarray

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published September 22, 2023 11:51AM (EDT)

US President Donald Trump, with Republican US Representative Kevin McCarthy (R), speaks at a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 4, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump, with Republican US Representative Kevin McCarthy (R), speaks at a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 4, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Some House Republicans are rejecting Donald Trump's criticism of a plan the group developed to avoid a government shutdown that now appears to be at risk of failure.

The former president took to social media Wednesday night shortly after news broke of the strategy, calling on Republicans to prioritize defunding the Biden administration' "weaponized government" and the "political prosecutions" he's facing. 

"A very important deadline is approaching at the end of the month. Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden's weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State," Trump said in a Truth Social post.

"This is also the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me and other Patriots," he continued. "They failed on the debt limit, but they must not fail now. Use the power of the purse and defend the Country!" 

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According to The Hill, some House GOP members have committed to trying to use the appropriations process to cut funding for federal agencies like the Department of Justice and the FBI, accusing the government of weaponizing the departments against Trump and conservatives at-large in the wake of his four criminal indictments.

While many Republicans in the House share Trump's stance and have extended support to him throughout his legal battles, they're also continuing to back the framework deal.

"He would've made the same call," conservative Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., said Thursday, adding "this will put us in a position to use leverage that he's talking about."

Other representatives, however, have cast aside Trump's opinion as the GOP infighting in the House intensifies ahead of the Sept. 30 shutdown deadline.

"He's not here, we are. We need to deal with our business in this house," moderate Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Ohio, said Thursday. "And the mechanics of it are such that the only way we can continue on is to do a [continuing resolution] because we're not going to be able to get all the appropriations bills passed by the end of the month."

"This conference has focused on trying to get our appropriations bills done that we have crafted in the appropriations process," Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., added, asserting when asked about the former president's influence amid spending talks that "House Republicans are focused on the business of House Republicans."

Republicans appeared to reach a turning point in the talks late Wednesday as members expressed optimism about the conference moving toward a deal, but by Thursday enough of them had banded together against the proposal to defeat it.

The partisan plan, considered dead upon arrival in the Senate, included spending cuts and changes to border policy, and would have pushed the shutdown deadline through the next month to give negotiators more time to eke out a larger deal for government funding in the 2024 fiscal year.

As the GOP continues to battle over the proposals, two freshman Republicans in the House have leveled the possibility of circumventing party leadership and collaborating with Democrats to fund the government, NBC News reports

Reps. Marc Molinaro and Mike Lawler, New York Republicans representing the Hudson Valley-area districts, said they're willing to consider a "discharge petition" to force votes on a short-term funding bill in the event their party fails to reach a compromise.

"It is absolutely an option," Molinaro told reporters outside the Capitol. "Working to ensure the government remains functional and that Congress is making the legitimate choices as it relates to funding ... is an important principle."

Lawler said that if Republicans can't come together to pass a continuing resolution to approve short-term funding, he "will move forward with a discharge petition."

It's unclear what the underlying bill would be and whether enough members of the GOP would be willing to leave behind Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to work with Democrats to force legislation to a vote.

After the House failed on Thursday to pass a rule to begin debate on a military funding bill for the second time this week, Lawler told reporters that as a long as Democrats have control of the Senate and the White House, "any final bill is going to be bipartisan. And if somebody doesn't realize that, they're truly clueless."

The discharge petition the representatives are floating is a rarely utilized tool giving legislators the power to force a vote on legislation even if the House speaker doesn't want to. It requires signatures from a majority of the chamber and is time-consuming: a bill must first sit in committee for at least 30 legislative days. Though it's not a viable option for preventing a shutdown at the end of September, it could, however, be a last-resort to reopen the government if the GOP stalemate continues.

While he's still open to teaming up with the Democrats, Molinaro also used Thursday afternoon to work with one of the Speaker's main opponents, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to rekindle negotiations about determining a path forward on the spending bills.

"I was asked to try to help find a way to a framework that allows us to move appropriations bills. I presented something that made sense to both ends of the ideological spectrum. And that allows us to remain committed to the belief that we spend too much of taxpayers' money and ultimately have to focus effectively on national defense," Molinaro said.

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The House is split 221-212 with Republicans taking the majority and two vacancies. With those numbers, at least five Republicans would have to divest for a discharge petition to succeed, and potentially more could if not all Democrats sign it. So far, GOP centrists have not shown a willingness to break from their leaders, while right-wingers are urging colleagues against doing so.

"I don't think it's healthy, obviously, for Republicans to say they'll go work literally with Democrats," Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said. "To try to prevent Republicans from pursuing Republican policies — yeah, I think that would be an unhealthy thing."

Other hardliners say Republicans who level the idea are making empty threats.

"That's been said for weeks. That's old news," said Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. "We're making tremendous progress forward to pass 12 appropriations bills. That's what I fought for in January, and that's what we're going to continue to fight for right now."

Democratic leaders have minimized the possibility of a discharge petition to resolve the turmoil and noted one hasn't been filed.

One potential option for a discharge petition is a new proposal raised late Wednesday by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that would seek to fund the government through Jan. 11 at levels agreed to in the recent two-year budget deal in addition to unspecified border enforcement policies, aid for Ukraine and disaster relief.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said that if the GOP border provisions look anything like "Title 42" measures to turn away asylum-seekers, a significant crop of Democrats won't sign on.

"That's a non-starter. It will not happen," Jayapal said. "They would lose too many of us on the discharge petition."

The GOP fissure over spending legislation puts Democrats in a unique position to leverage power it wouldn't typically have as the minority party in the House, according to Politico.

While McCarthy continues pushing new CRs in an effort to appease hardliners until he finally secures a majority — similar to his January strategy to secure the speakership — and the Problem Solvers Caucus floats a potential discharge petition, Democrats are mulling over what role they could play if GOP holdouts make good on their threats to vote to oust McCarthy from his role. 

On one hand, they could all vote against the California Republican and aid the hardliners in triggering a new speaker election — though no one is really sure which Republican would ascend to the position in the process. On the other, Democrats could also lend their votes to McCarthy and save him from removal, a route that would come with a very high price.

In the meantime, per NBC News, Jayapal said that Republicans should agree to a simple stopgap bill at current funding levels with supplemental requests if Republicans want help from their Democratic colleagues.

"We're not inclined to save them," she added.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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