Congress passed an 11th-hour short-term funding bill this weekend, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown for the next 45 days, but the House is in a state of turmoil as far-right lawmakers threaten to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for working on the bipartisan bill. “It’s a crisis entirely of Kevin McCarthy’s own making,” says our guest Sasha Abramsky, the West Coast correspondent for The Nation, who also calls McCarthy’s impeachment inquiry into President Biden “the most ill-prepared, ill-thought-out, poorly advised Republican inquiry you could possibly imagine,” and discusses Republicans’ embrace of Vladimir Putin to contrast with establishment Democrats’ support of Ukraine in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
The House and Senate voted Saturday night to keep funding the federal government for 45 days, but the House is in a state of turmoil as far-right lawmakers threaten to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for working with Democrats to pass the spending bill, which averted a government shutdown. The final vote in the House on the stopgap spending measure was 335 to 91. All but one Democrat supported the measure, which was opposed by 90 Republicans. The bill did not include any aid for Ukraine. The Senate had previously approved about $6 billion in new aid for Ukraine, but that was stripped from the final bill.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke to reporters Saturday night.
SPEAKER KEVIN McCARTHY: Would I have wanted the bill we put on the floor yesterday that would secure our border, cut wasteful spending? Yes, I did. But I had some members in our own conference that wouldn’t vote for that. So if you have members in your conference that won’t let you vote for appropriation bills, doesn’t want an omnibus and won’t vote for a stopgap measure, so the only answer is to shut down and not pay our troops, I don’t want to be a part of that team. I want to be a part of a conservative group that wants to get things done.
AMY GOODMAN: Less than 24 hours after the House passed the spending bill, Republican Congressmember Matt Gaetz of the House Freedom Caucus told CNN he would introduce a motion to remove McCarthy as speaker for working with Democrats.
REP. MATT GAETZ: I do intend to file a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy this week. I think we need to —
JAKE TAPPER: This week.
REP. MATT GAETZ: — rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy. Look, the one thing everybody has in common is that nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy. He lied to Biden. He lied to House conservatives. He had appropriators marking to a different number altogether. And the reason we were backed up against the shutdown politics is not a bug of the system; it’s a feature.
AMY GOODMAN: The drama over a possible government shutdown was just one of the major stories on Capitol Hill over the weekend. On Thursday night, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein died at the age of 90, the longest-serving woman ever to serve in the Senate. On Sunday, California Governor Gavin Newsom tapped Laphonza Butler to temporarily fill the seat. Butler is the president of EMILY’s List. She served as an adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential campaign. She’s a former leader of the union SEIU in California for the home healthcare workers. But more recently she advised Uber as it fought the California law requiring app companies to grant workers employee benefits. Butler will become the only Black woman in the Senate and California’s first openly LGBTQ+ senator. The Congressional Black Caucus had urged Newsom to pick Congressmember Barbara Lee, who is already running for Feinstein’s seat. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff are also running for the Senate seat.
To talk about all of this and more, we go now to California, where we’re joined by Sasha Abramsky. He’s the West Coast correspondent for The Nation. His new piece for The Nation is “Dianne Feinstein’s Empty Seat.” His recent piece for Truthout is “A Small Cadre of GOP Hard-Liners Is Pushing US Toward Government Shutdown,” which, Sasha, in fact, did not happen.
So, can you talk about, first, the drama on Saturday night and what’s going to happen to House Speaker McCarthy?
SASHA ABRAMSKY: Yeah. Good morning, Amy. It’s good to be on.
What happened Saturday night was an entirely predictable consequence of what McCarthy did in order to become speaker last year. Basically, it took 15 votes to become speaker, and to get there, he had to make all kinds of promises to empower the far right of his caucus, people like Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and so on. It was entirely predictable that if you gave power to bomb throwers, that they would throw bombs. And sure enough, they did.
What they tried to do was shut down the basic functioning of government. You played a clip of McCarthy saying, “Well, I’ve got a part of my caucus who just won’t vote from omnibus spending bills.” Well, if you’re running in government, you’re in Congress, and you refuse your basic obligation to pass omnibus spending bills to keep government open, you’re responsible if at the end of the day the TSA aren’t paid, the military aren’t paid, if Head Start programs start to shut down, if WIC can’t pay its recipients, if the SNAP program can’t pay its recipients, if people going on holidays to national parks find that the parks are shuttered. And McCarthy realized that. He realized that if he let the government shut down, the Republicans would be blamed fully and squarely for the consequences. McCarthy is nothing if not an opportunist. What McCarthy wants is political power. And so, at the end of the day, McCarthy cut a deal with Democrats to keep government open.
Now, again, it’s entirely predictable, given the fact that he ceded the right the power to challenge him if a single member of Congress wanted to challenge him — it’s entirely predictable that within minutes of that compromise, Matt Gaetz had thrown another bomb and said, “Look, I’m going to be challenging you. I’m going to be making a motion to vacate the speakership.” And that’s the drama that’s going to be playing out this week in Washington, D.C. It’s a crisis entirely of Kevin McCarthy’s own making.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you have the far-right Congressmember Matt Gaetz challenging him as speaker, but the Congressional Progressive Caucus will not back him, either.
SASHA ABRAMSKY: There’s absolutely no reason that the Democrats, of any stripe — progressive or mainstream or however you want to define them — there is no reason the Democrats should bail McCarthy out. Look, McCarthy launched an entirely spurious impeachment inquiry investigation into President Biden. It was a fishing expedition. There was no evidence there. There was no smoking gun. There was just this hunch that McCarthy had that things weren’t quite right, and therefore he launched an impeachment inquiry. Well, if that’s McCarthy’s strategy, why on Earth would the Democrats not sit back and watch him squirm? And I suspect that’s exactly what they’re going to do this week. If they want McCarthy, to bail him out, at the bare minimum they’re going to be asking him to put a halt on the impeachment inquiry.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, that impeachment inquiry hearing that took place on Thursday, the Republicans’ own witnesses said there wasn’t enough information, like lawyer — like attorney Turley.
SASHA ABRAMSKY: It was sort of joyous. It was sort of joyous to watch. It was Amateurville. I mean, this was not politics of a high caliber. This was the most ill-prepared, ill-thought-out, poorly advised Republican inquiry you could possibly imagine. You contrast it with the meticulousness of the investigations and the hearings into Donald Trump for what he did around Ukraine, for what he did after January 6th. You contrast it with the January 6th committee hearings, the bipartisan hearings, where Liz Cheney went out and said, “Look, here’s why this is so dangerous to democracy.” That was meticulously prepared. What the Republicans did the other day, it was a partisan show. It had no merit, and it was entirely amateur.
AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the issue of the funding of Ukraine, which is not included in this bill, though the Senate had voted for $6 billion. Michael Bennet, the senator from Colorado, almost scuttled the deal. And then you have that one lone Democrat who voted against the deal in the House, Quigley from Chicago, also based on the stripping of funding for Ukraine, Sasha.
SASHA ABRAMSKY: That’s right. Quigley is the chair, I believe, of the Ukrainian Caucus in Congress, and he was absolutely furious that that funding had been stripped.
What I find so fascinating about this is the absolute volte-face that the Republican Party has done on foreign policy and on national security since the beginning of the Trump years. If you had gone back 10, 15 years, the Republican Party were the party, self-proclaimed party, of, you know, everything military, everything national security. You fast-forward now, and they’re an isolationist party, or at least one wing is isolationist. More than isolationist, they’re a pro-Putin party. You know, it’s one thing to say, “Look, we don’t want to be involved in wars.” It’s one thing to say, “We’ve got to have a debate about the size of the American military.” That’s fine. But it’s completely extraordinary that a significant wing of the Republican Party is throwing in their lot with Vladimir Putin. It’s also entirely predictable, because during his presidency, time and again, Trump threw his lot in with Vladimir Putin.
Well, if you’re going to throw your lot in with somebody who’s dictatorial, if you’re going to throw your lot in with somebody who has done everything he can to undermine democratic systems, not just in the United States, but across the Western world, if that is your bedfellow, you’re going to come to strange policy conclusions. And that’s what we saw in this debate, that the only way Congress could pass an omnibus spending bill and keep American government open was ceding to the far right on the issue of Ukraine — completely extraordinary to watch. And I can only think it’s going to result in all kinds of internal debates within the Republican Party, because there are people out there, people like Nikki Haley, people like Mike Pence, who, in public, are perfectly willing to say, “That strategy is crazy. It doesn’t make sense to appease Vladimir Putin.” And they are saying it in public. And I think over the next few months, as we get closer and closer to the primary season, that debate is going to become ever more public and ever more acrimonious.