House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are in a high-stakes game of chicken with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Democratic-controlled Senate as they race toward a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a funding bill to prevent a government shutdown. At its center is a demand from the conservative right wing of the Republican Party for a reauthorization of the HIV/AIDS relief program PEPFAR, and pressure to begin impeachment proceedings against President Joe Biden.
On Monday, a group of seven protesters from Health GAP (Global Access Project) and Housing Works, a group dedicated to ending homelessness and AIDS, crowded into McCarthy’s office on Capitol Hill, chanting, “McCarthy – Pass PEPFAR now!”
PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has saved 25 million lives around the world in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, providing funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and medication. But Republicans led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who heads the subcommittee that controls PEPFAR, have refused to reauthorize the program until the Biden administration reinstates restrictions that prevent groups using PEPFAR funds from discussing abortion as an option. The White House has disagreed but faces staunch refusal from conservatives who are threatening McCarthy that they will vacate the chair and remove him from office if he does not counter the White House with an impeachment inquiry into Democrat Joe Biden and his role in his son’s business.
The House has passed only one appropriations bill so far, leaving negotiations between the two sides on the individual spending bills. McCarthy is walking a tightrope as he meets both sides’ demands for PEPFAR and the impeachment inquiry while trying to avoid a shutdown. The White House is recommending three-month appropriations bills that McConnell can pass on his own but the Republican-led Senate, wary of offending their conservative base, has not agreed. House Democrats have called the game of chicken irresponsible and are digging in, making already difficult negotiations even harder.
The protesters were removed from McCarthy's office by the U.S. Capitol Police, and his staff has yet to comment on the incident. With just a few weeks to go until the deadline, the pressure is mounting for McCarthy and lawmakers of both parties to work together and avert a shutdown. With millions of lives across the globe depending on PEPFAR funds and voting constituencies of both parties on the line, McCarthy is left to juggle powerful forces trying to get their way, all while avoiding a difficult political decision himself.
Hey @FBI - I'm sure this wasn't done without planning and text messages and conspiratorial high fives. You should be working hard while the evidence is fresh.
You might as well lean into your joke of a reputation. https://t.co/zd9xuXKpdN
— Kyle Seraphin (@KyleSeraphin) September 11, 2023