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Politics chat: How House Speaker McCarthy gave up on appeasing far-right colleagues


At 11:15 Eastern last night, a White House email went out noting President Joe Biden had signed into law H.R. 5860 - no government shutdown, at least for now. In a stunning reversal, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy put forward a short-term government funding bill, passing it with the support of Democrats and against the wishes and votes of many House Republicans. Then the Senate passed it, funding the government through November 17 - this despite no aid for Ukraine being included. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: For weeks, we've watched McCarthy try and fail to pass spending bills with Republican votes alone. And we've talked about how his hold on the speakership is tenuous at best. What changed yesterday?

KEITH: Well, as you say, McCarthy has just been absolutely battered by the far-right flank of his conference. And they've delivered him one embarrassing defeat after another on spending bills that were designed to appease them, and they all failed. So after weeks of seemingly prioritizing keeping his job over basic governing, just when it looked like there was no way to avoid a government shutdown, McCarthy basically said, look what you made me do, and put up a bill that Democrats couldn't say no to, which meant he didn't need his far-right antagonists to go along - people like Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida who said this morning on CNN that he will move this week to oust Speaker McCarthy. He also said last night on social media that the speaker had violated the rules of the Republican conference.

McCarthy was asked about this threat, which has been out there for days, yesterday by reporters in the hallway after he had introduced that short-term spending bill.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: If I lose my job over looking out for the American public, for taking a stand for our troops and our border agents, then I'm not quite sure what people want.

KEITH: So now there's this 45-day extension of government funding. Another cliff arrives before Thanksgiving, and it's not clear whether Speaker McCarthy will be the speaker when that happens.

RASCOE: OK, I don't know if I want that along with my turkey. But this bill passed does not contain the funding for Ukraine. That's been a huge priority for the Biden administration. So where does that effort go from here?

KEITH: Right. So keeping that Ukraine funding out had been sort of a fig leaf to House Republicans who oppose continued aid to Ukraine. But the White House has been asking for this $24 billion in emergency funding. They said that aid would run out for Ukraine without that funding coming through, approximately, now. Ukraine's President Zelenskyy had been in Washington, making his own pitch for support. Yesterday, Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate pledged to take up this funding request separately, and there is broad bipartisan support for it in the Senate.

President Biden, in his statement celebrating the averted government shutdown, was quite pointed when it came to the Ukraine funding - said that - saying that support can't be interrupted, and, quote, "I fully expect the speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment." Though I will say, it is not fully clear right now how or when that might happen.

RASCOE: Let's turn to the presidential campaign because it's starting to feel like the general election has already begun.

KEITH: Indeed. Former President Trump, who has been indicted four times, tried to overturn the results of the last election, which he lost, and faces a raft of other civil and legal issues - he hasn't won the primary yet, but he remains the prohibitive front-runner, and this was a week of that. The rest of the Republican field, while large in number, looked mighty meek next to him. They were on the debate stage in California tossing him a few mild attacks while Trump was in the key swing state of Michigan taking aim at President Biden. And Biden himself in recent days has been more direct at aiming criticism at Trump, describing him as a unique threat to democracy itself. That is going to be a pillar of Biden's reelection campaign.

RASCOE: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.