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Congress ousts former Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy days after averting government shutdown

The shift in approach by Kevin McCarthy, former Speaker of the House, prevented a government shutdown but jeopardized his speakership as the House passed a funding bill with Democratic support. Patrick McHenry now serves in the interim.

The United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Folly Kouevi/The Hilltop)

With barely hours to spare, the U.S. Congress averted a government shutdown as former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), shifted course from his party’s hardliners’ earlier demand for a partisan bill with overwhelming support from Democrats. The move kept the government open but jeopardized McCarthy’s speakership. 

The House of Representatives passed the bill by a vote of 335-91 on Sept. 30, after McCarthy announced that morning that he would try to pass the short-term funding bill with Democrat support. McCarthy constituted a significant turnaround from earlier in the week when a shutdown appeared all but certain. 

Ultimately, the bill received more support from Democrat representatives than Republicans in the House, with 90 Republicans voting nay and only one Democrat voting against the bill. 

The outcome of the vote on the temporary funding bill in the House on Sept. 30. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives)

The Democrat-majority Senate voted 88-9 to prevent the fourth partial government shutdown in a decade and passed a “clean” continuing resolution that funds the government through Nov. 17 and provides the Biden administration the $16 billion it requested to assist natural disaster victims. The bill was delivered to President Joe Biden, who signed it into law before the midnight deadline.

Only nine Republicans voted against the bill in the Senate: Senators Marsha Blackburn (TN), Mike Braun (IN), Ted Cruz (TX), Bill Hagerty (TN), Mike Lee (UT), Roger Marshall (KS), Rand Paul (KY), Eric Schmitt (MO) and J.D. Vance (OH).

The outcome of the vote on the temporary funding bill in the Senate on Sept. 30. (Photo courtesy of the Senate television)

“Tonight, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate voted to keep the government open, preventing an unnecessary crisis that would have inflicted needless pain on millions of hard-working Americans,” President Biden said in a statement after the passage. 

“This bill ensures that active-duty troops will continue to get paid, travelers will be spared airport delays, millions of women and children will continue to have access to vital nutrition assistance, and so much more. This is good news for the American people,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House. 

Amber Omoloju, a freshman political science major and philosophy minor from Brooklyn, New York, shared her initial reaction to the potential shutdown. 

“When I first heard about it, I was just really scared because I think a shutdown brings so many possible negative outcomes for our country,” Omoloju said.

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“I thought about all the funding that could be halted and how that would affect the years to come,” Omoloju said.

The repercussions of a government shutdown in the nation’s capital, where the lack of statehood and ties with the federal government would mean that most of the 160,000 people working for the federal government would not be paid, whether they worked or not according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). 

Following the 2013 government shutdown, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton inserted a provision that exempts the Washington D.C. government from closing down alongside the federal government in the D.C. Appropriations bill. 

In addition, then-mayor and current Ward 7 councilmember, Vince Gray declared the entire D.C. government “essential” exempting all city government functions from a shutdown. 

“The last time this happened, I remember things being unusual; you just had to maneuver and navigate things differently,” Professor Joshua Myers, associate professor in the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, said, sharing his experience during the previous government shutdown. 

“In terms of Howard, it did not impact the university much because the university had prepared for it. There’s always a concern that these things will happen, but usually, these things are resolved quickly,” Myers said, discussing the impact of the federal government’s shutdown on the institution.  

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A potential federal government shutdown could have various consequences for Howard University according to the educational institution. Government services would be limited during a shutdown, but the institution intends to continue operating as usual.

Federal divisions such as National Parks and financial regulators,  developed detailed plans outlining which services would be maintained, from airport screening and border inspections, as well as what would be shut down, such as scientific research.  Federal assistance programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would also experience operational postponement. 

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack mentioned that if the government were to shut down, the “vast majority” of the 7 million people participating in federal assistance programs would suffer an immediate cut in payment. 

“Women and children who count on WIC would soon start being turned away at grocery store counters, with a federal contingency fund drying up after just a few days and many states left with limited WIC funds to operate the program,” according to a statement released by the White House

In the District of Columbia, where almost 14,000 residents are supported by federal programs such as WIC, program recipients were asked “to contact their local WIC office for a WIC appointment” to identify next steps if benefits were lost due to a shutdown according to D.C. Health

At a White House briefing on Sept. 25, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discusses the effects of a possible government shutdown on federal food and nutrition aid programs. (Photo courtesy of the White House)

“It’s been a day full of twists and turns, but the American people can breathe a sigh of relief,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor after the vote. “There will be no government shutdown,” Schumer declared. 

However, financing for Ukraine, which Democrats demanded but many Republicans opposed, is absent from the bill.

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“While I would have preferred to pass a bill now with additional assistance for Ukraine, which has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, it is easier to help Ukraine with the government open than if it were closed,” Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen said via a public statement.

President Biden addressed the bill’s lack of Ukraine funds in his statement, declaring “We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted,”. 

“I fully anticipate the Speaker to uphold his promise to the Ukrainian people and win passage of the assistance needed to help Ukraine at this critical juncture,” Biden said. 

Senate Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell issued a statement pushing Congress to approve additional funding for Ukraine. The statement was co-signed by Appropriations Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA), Appropriations Committee Vice Chair Susan Collins (R-ME), and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Chairs Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).   

“In the coming weeks, we expect the Senate will work to ensure the U.S. government continues to provide critical and sustained security and economic support for Ukraine. We support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereignty against Putin’s brazen aggression, and we join a strong bipartisan majority of our colleagues in this essential work” the statement said. 

“With the eyes of our partners, allies and adversaries upon us, we keenly understand the importance of American leadership. We are committed to strengthening it from Europe to the Indo-Pacific,” Coons and Graham said. 

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California Republican Kevin McCarthy became the first speaker of the House ousted from the leadership position merely three days after the aversion of a government shutdown in a historic 216-to-210 vote. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) has since become interim House Speaker.

The outcome of the vote to remove former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his leadership position on Oct. 3rd. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives)

McCarthy was elected speaker after 15 rounds of voting in January as reported by The New York Times. He was able to secure the leadership position in part by conceding to a group of Republicans’ requests to amend the rules on who can present a resolution to remove the speaker, allowing only one member to do so.

“He was voted out by a small minority, who were upset by him,” said Kameron Hayes, a freshman Afro-American studies major at Howard University from Atlanta.

“They were upset that he did what he had to do to keep the government funded, which is upsetting to me,” Hayes said.

McCarthy’s removal was spearheaded by far-right Republican Representative Matt Gaetz (FL)  following a 208-218 vote on a motion to table Gaetz’s resolution to oust McCarthy. Gaetz claims McCarthy’s choice to adopt a short-term budget package with Democrat backing demonstrated that he had not “fulfilled his promises” to the Republicans.

Republican Representative Matt Gaetz (FL) speaking on the House floor advocating for the removal of Kevin McCarthy on Oct. 3rd. (Photo courtesy of the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives)

“Chaos is Speaker McCarthy. Chaos is somebody who we cannot trust with their word,” Gaetz said on the House floor. 

Although Gaetz is the face of the opposition Republicans who voted against McCarthy, most Republican members in the House supported their elected leader.

There was some anticipation before the vote that Democrats would intervene to save McCarthy by voting “present” rather than in favor of the motion to vacate. McCarthy, however, refused to make any compromises and Democrats voted to remove him.

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Democrats declared that they will once again nominate Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries as Speaker, as they did in previous rounds of voting in January. Still, in the Republican-majority House, the odds look unpromising.

The House is now obligated to vote on a new speaker, but it is still being determined who will receive enough votes to replace McCarthy. McCarthy announced that he would not run for Speaker again. 

North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry has been named “Speaker pro tempore,” the interim Speaker. McCarthy chose him to move up in the line of succession to the speakership if the seat became vacant due to death or a vote to vacate.

Republicans have scheduled a vote for Oct. 11 to select a replacement and are scheduled to meet the day before the vote to hear from candidates, as reported by Reuters. Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise have since announced that they would run for the position of House Speaker.

Whoever is elected as the 56th Speaker of the House must navigate funding the government while still working with Democrats, knowing that the party’s more conservative wings can derail them in a single vote.

Camila Armas, a freshman political science major from Raleigh, North Carolina, is concerned about the country’s direction and believes Congress should prioritize pressing issues affecting the country.  

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“I can’t believe this is like our government right now. I think that is very representative of the current state of our democracy,” Armas said. 

Myers believes the threat of a government shutdown is more than a bureaucratic impasse. “These things are just political tools,” Myers said. 

“The threat and prosecution of a government shutdown are political maneuvers for people to compromise on positions. I don’t think this will last long [as] the government knows it needs Howard and [other institutions] to function,” Myers said. 

“We could be focusing on actually making solutions to the other problems that are plaguing Americans. Like inflation, the student debt crisis or the crisis at the border…these things need to be addressed,” Armas said.  

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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