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House returns from recess with shutdown, potential impeachment inquiry looming

FILE - Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 17, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 17, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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The House is back from a weekslong recess on Tuesday and has a packed calendar to close out the year and a ticking clock to find an agreement to fund the government and prevent a government shutdown.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is facing a significant challenge of getting a slim House majority with dueling priorities to agree on funding figures and which policies to make a priority that will also have to pass a Democratic-controlled Senate.

There is also pressure from some parts of the conference to advance an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden amid numerous investigations into his administration and family’s business dealings, along with the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration and a White House request for disaster relief and aid for Ukraine.

The deadline to reach a deal to fund the government comes is just weeks away with the upcoming fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1. If Congress were to fail to pass a full bill or a temporary stopgap to buy lawmakers more time, a shutdown will begin closing federal government offices, sending most government employees home and forcing federal employees who still work unpaid until a new bill is passed.

The clock is also ticking to avoid widespread cuts due to provisions in the debt ceiling bill, which will enact a 1% cut across the board if all 12 bills aren’t passed by the new year.

It may be yet another test of McCarthy’s ability to hold onto the speaker’s gavel due to dueling priorities within his conference.

“The possibility of the government shutting down should force McCarthy to focus on that problem first. It may end up that he is unable to do so and it may be the case that this leads to a challenge to his speakership,” said Jason MacDonald, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University. “Realistically, his would-be challengers recognize that it is unlikely that they will be able to find anyone who would receive the votes to replace him.”

Lawmakers are already starting to anticipate a shutdown with just 12 days in session on the calendar this month for the House that is well behind the Senate in passing government appropriation bills.

The Senate’s appropriators have already passed all 12 funding bills with broad bipartisan support, while the House is far behind that pace with intraparty disagreements to sort through. Both chambers are moving ahead with the appropriations process this week, with the House planning on taking up a bill for the Department of Defense and the Senate considering a package of three appropriations bills.

“That Senate Republicans have been negotiating with Democrats, trying to move appropriations bills through the process (if not through “regular order”) may end up making House Republicans look bad if and when they are the ones to shut the government down by refusing to compromise,” MacDonald said. “But it probably will not hurt the reelection chances of the individual members who block compromise. And that is why we are here.”

Congressional leaders have said a stopgap bill will likely be necessary to avoid a shutdown but the idea has faced resistance from the House Freedom Caucus, which said its members will not support unless it comes with conservative priorities that will not get through a Democratic-controlled Senate.

“In the eventuality that Congress must consider a short-term extension of government funding through a Continuing Resolution, we refuse to support any such measure that continues Democrats’ bloated COVID-era spending and simultaneously fails to force the Biden Administration to follow the law and fulfill its most basic responsibilities,” the Freedom Caucus said in a statement during the August recess.

Also up for debate is whether the stopgap bill would include the White House request for $40 billion to provide aid for Ukraine and parts of the U.S. that have been hit by natural disasters. With Democrats and most Republicans in the House supporting the spending, there has been growing opposition to continue sending funds from some lawmakers.

McCarthy may be able to find enough Democratic and moderate Republican support to pass a continuing resolution but that would come along with potential threats to his spot as speaker, which has been tenuous since the marathon voting session it took for him to secure the gavel.

Some lawmakers have also said their support for a government funding bill would be contingent on the launch of an impeachment inquiry into Biden despite opposition from moderates and Republicans in districts Biden won in 2020. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has led a push to tie government funding to impeaching the president.

“An impeachment inquiry does put at risk certain seats in certain states, especially where they are swing districts,” Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., told Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” “We are making our members who are in those districts walk the plank if we force them down an impeachment vote, which is why I have been saying, no matter what the evidence shows, show all of it.”

Along with growing calls from the party’s rightward flank to impeach the president, McCarthy added to the speculation on a potential inquiry starting when he said it would be the “natural step forward.”

Rep. French Hill, R-La., said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he didn’t believe the House committees investigating Biden and his family have reached the level of evidence needed.

“I don't believe they've even remotely completed their work on the kind of detailed investigations and quality work that Speaker McCarthy is expecting both those committees to produce before someone goes to an impeachment activity,” Hill said.

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