Texans in U.S. House describe GOP in chaos ahead of likely government shutdown

U.S. representatives Tony Gonzales (left), R-San Antonio, and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, spoke about bipartisanship at The Texas Tribune Festival in Austin Saturday. (Julius Shieh/The Texas Tribune, Julius Shieh/The Texas Tribune)

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With a possible shutdown of the federal government on the horizon, various members of the Texas Congressional delegation at The Texas Tribune Festival Saturday described a House in crisis, voicing their concerns and frustrations with Republican infighting that has brought attempts to approve annual spending bills to a standstill.

“It is a really challenging time to get anything done in this Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston.

Fletcher spoke on a panel with three other House Democrats from Texas — Greg Casar and Lloyd Doggett of Austin and Sylvia Garcia of Houston — about what it’s like working under Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Lawmakers need to approve 12 spending measures to fund the federal government. The GOP has a single-digit majority in the House, so if all Democrats oppose a Republican proposal, almost all Republicans must be in alignment. McCarthy started advancing his spending plan with a typically popular defense bill. But a small group of House Republicans broke ranks earlier this week and blocked it — twice. And hardliners signaled they would oppose any temporary measures to keep the government running after Sept. 30 while lawmakers iron out their differences.

“This is not a two party problem. It is a one political party problem,” Casar said. “It really is folks just on one side of the aisle that are willing to keep on holding the American public hostage and doing economic damage to the country because they think it scores political points against President Biden.”

The GOP hardliners who have said they want deeper cuts to federal spending in general include Eli Crane and Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Rosendale of Montana.

A government shutdown could affect more than 100,000 federal employees and 110,000 active duty military members in Texas, according to data kept by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Defense.

“All of these people are going to be asked to work without pay, possibly be furloughed for an indefinite period of time,” Fletcher said. “The consequences are real. This is not something that we should be even considering as a tool in the negotiations.”

In a separate panel, U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, discussed bipartisanship.

Both men shared similar opinions that some House members are using the upcoming funding deadline as a strong-arm tactic.

“What’s also a little disappointing, too, is in chaos, there are people that cheer chaos on, that want to see chaos. They drive off chaos. They enjoy chaos,” Gonzales said. “They’re not just in one party. … It’s across the board.”

Cuellar said some House Republicans are refusing to pass spending bills until House Resolution 2, a proposal to revive some Trump-era border policies, is passed.

“The last time we had a shutdown — with President Trump — he felt that he was going to come out ahead, and it didn't turn out that way,” Cuellar said. “So, people think that they are going to get the leverage? It doesn’t turn out that great.”

When asked whether McCarthy should try to reach a compromise with Democrats for the votes he needs, Gonzales said McCarthy has positioned himself such that he can’t reach out for help.

“I wake up and think what are my options and what I can do to help us get out of this very dark hole that not only we’re in. The first thing you can do when you’re in a hole is you stop digging.” Gonzales said. “And (McCarthy) had not stopped digging. We’re only digging faster.”


As The Texas Tribune's signature event of the year, The Texas Tribune Festival brings Texans closer to politics, policy and the day’s news from Texas and beyond. Browse on-demand recordings and catch up on the biggest headlines from Festival events at the Tribune’s Festival news page.