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What Republicans from districts Biden won say about budget standoff

Several question hard-liners’ endgame as defense spending bill stalls

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., flipped a seat last year by less than 1 percentage point in a district that Democrat Joe Biden won by 10 points in 2020.
Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., flipped a seat last year by less than 1 percentage point in a district that Democrat Joe Biden won by 10 points in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With official Washington bracing for a potential lapse in appropriations at the end of next week, a group of House Republicans who represent districts that Joe Biden won in 2020 say they will work to avoid a government shutdown.

Speaking on the House steps on Tuesday, members of the group sought to push back at colleagues who have come out against even a temporary spending extension and earlier Tuesday sunk a vote to begin debate on funding the military after Sept. 30. 

“The vast majority of the conference is in alignment on reining in spending, on securing our border, on funding the Department of Defense and we want to move forward with that work,” said New York Rep. Mike Lawler. “Unfortunately, right now we have a handful of people who refuse to do that work, because they feel this is the way that they get to what they want.”

There are 18 House Republicans who won seats in 2022 that went for Biden in 2020, and they are among Democrats’ top targets next year. Six of them are from New York while another five are Californians, and Democrats are focusing on both states in their quest to win back control of the House that the GOP holds with only a five-seat majority. 

Those members from “Biden districts” said they oppose a government shutdown, but conservatives largely from safe GOP seats have threatened to vote against a continuing resolution that would extend government funding past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. An agreement to do that was announced Sunday by some members of the House Freedom Caucus and the Main Street Caucus, which includes more moderate members. But even that CR, which also included spending cuts and GOP initiatives on border security, would almost certainly go nowhere in the Democratic-controlled Senate. 

That dynamic has led to a chaotic week on Capitol Hill and frustration within the House GOP conference is growing. Arizona Rep. Juan Ciscomani, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said it was “completely unacceptable” to not be able to start debate on the defense measure, which was defeated when five Republicans voted with all the Democrats. “A handful of people have decided to move the goalposts once again,” he said. 

Before that vote, leaders postponed a scheduled vote on the deal announced Sunday, and talks were underway to impose deeper spending cuts.

“If we can’t have a CR, we obviously do not want an omnibus. We can’t pass bills out of regular order, then what is it?” Ciscomani said. “Right now it’s about the defense bill. This should be the most straightforward vote for all of us, and we can’t even pass the rule for that.”

Lawler said there are ongoing conversations within the House GOP conference, as well as with House Democrats. Lawler narrowly defeated Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the House Democrats’ campaign committee, last year in a seat Biden would have won by 10 points in its current configuration. Two notable Democrats have already announced campaigns to try and challenge him in 2024. 

“The objective to me is to ensure that we do not shut down. Obviously, I want to make sure, working through the speaker, that we do the best job we can as a conference and hopefully some of my colleagues will see the light of day quickly,” Lawler said. 

If the GOP cannot agree on something, House Republicans could vote with Democrats for a short-term spending bill that does not include provisions the Main Street group agreed to with members of the Freedom Caucus over the weekend.

Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, separately told reporters that Plan B is “218 in the Congress, and not the conference,” he said, referring to the number of votes needed for a House majority.

Oregon Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, who flipped a seat Biden would have won by 8.8 points in 2020, said that stalled work on appropriations bills means that progress on other legislation is also delayed. 

“We are one half of 1/3 of this government and we have to work together,” she said.