Top US House Democrat sees Republican ‘civil war’ as shutdown looms

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON, Sept 17 (Reuters)With a possible partial government shutdown looming in two weeks amid what a senior Democrat called a Republican “civil war,” House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Sunday vowed to bring a defense spending bill to a vote “win or lose” this week despite resistance from hardline fellow Republicans.

Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, faulted the Republicans who hold a narrow 221-212 majority in the chamber as they bicker over spending and pursue a against President Joe Biden while the United States faces a possible fourth partial government shutdown in a decade.

“Let’s be clear. House Republicans are in the middle of a civil war,” Jeffries told ABC’s “This Week” program, adding that the result has been “chaos, dysfunction and extremism” in Congress.

McCarthy is struggling to bring fiscal 2024 spending legislation to the House floor with Republicans fractured by hardline conservative demands for spending to be cut back to a 2022 level of $1.47 trillion – $120 billion below the spending that McCarthy agreed with Biden in May.

“What we should be focused on right now is avoiding an unnecessary government shutdown that will hurt the ability of our economy to continue to recover,” Jeffries said.

McCarthy has also begun to face calls for floor action seeking his ouster from hardline conservatives and others who have accused him of failing to keep promises he made to become speaker in January following a revolt from some of the most conservative Republicans in the House.

The Republican-controlled House and Democratic-led Senate have until Oct. 1 to avoid a partial shutdown by enacting appropriations bills that Biden, a Democrat, can sign into law, or by passing a short-term stop gap spending measure to give lawmakers more time for debate.

McCarthy signaled a tougher stand with hardliners, telling the Fox News “Sunday Morning Futures” program that he would bring the stalled defense bill to the floor this week. The House last week postponed a vote on beginning debate on the defense appropriations bill due to opposition from the hardliners.

“We’ll bring it to the floor, win or lose, and show the American public who’s for the Department of Defense, who’s for our military,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said he wants to make sure there is no shutdown on Oct. 1, saying: “A shutdown would only give strength to the Democrats.”

McCarthy has held closed-door discussions over the weekend aimed at overcoming a roadblock by the conservative hardliners to spending legislation. They want assurances that legislation will include their deep spending cuts, as well as conservative policy priorities including provisions related to tighter border security that are unlikely to secure Democratic votes.

“We made some good progress,” McCarthy said.

Representative Elise Stefanik, the No. 4 House Republican, told the “Fox News Sunday” program that she was optimistic about moving forward on appropriations after closed-door discussions.

But Republican Representative Nancy Mace told ABC’s “This Week” that she expects a shutdown and did not rule out support for a vote to oust McCarthy’s ouster. Mace complained that the speaker has not made good on promises to her involving action on women’s issues and gun violence.

“Everything’s on the table at this point for me,” Mace said.

Mace played down the consequences of a shutdown, saying much of the government would remain in operation and that the hiatus would give government workers time off with back pay at a later date.

Democratic former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that a shutdown would risk harming the most vulnerable members of society who depend on government assistance.

“We’re talking about diminishing even something as simple and fundamental as feeding the children,” Pelosi told MSNBC. “We have to try to avoid it.”

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(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Hannah Lang; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

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