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Key lawmakers in the government spending fight as a shutdown nears

By Piper Hudspeth Blackburn, CNN

(CNN) — With the possibility of a government shutdown just hours away, lawmakers in Congress are scrambling to try to find a way to extend government funding past Saturday’s critical midnight deadline.

A shutdown could affect millions of Americans and have significant impacts across the country, from federal agencies to national parks.

Here are key lawmakers to watch in the ongoing negotiations on Capitol Hill:

Kevin McCarthy

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is at the center of negotiations and faces a major leadership challenge: getting the House on board with a plan to keep the government open. Because of the GOP’s razor-thin majority in the House, the California lawmaker needs nearly all of his conference’s votes to get a plan through the chamber if he wants to pass a bill on a party-line vote.

That includes conservative hardliners, who McCarthy has struggled to unite with the rest of his conference. Earlier this year, it took 15 rounds of voting over multiple days for McCarthy to secure enough votes to win the speaker’s gavel. And in May, McCarthy needed to rely on Democratic votes to pass a measure to lift the nation’s borrowing limit, a move that warded off what could have been a catastrophic default.

McCarthy has continued to insist that a government shutdown is the worst possible option. “I don’t think shutdowns ever help,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Still, McCarthy continued to face challenges Friday when the House failed to advance a last-ditch stopgap bill to extend government funding beyond Saturday.

The shutdown negotiations come as some members, Rep. Mat Gaetz among them, have suggested that they would consider ousting McCarthy from his post through a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair. It’s a rare procedural tool that allows any one member to trigger a House floor vote to oust the speaker. The move was one of the major concessions McCarthy agreed to in order to persuade his conference’s most conservative members to help him become House speaker.

Hakeem Jeffries

When it comes to moving forward with a plan, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Democratic members may also hold considerable sway since McCarthy may be unable to advance a plan with solely Republican votes.

Jeffries has urged House Republicans to pass bipartisan legislation working its way through the Democrat-controlled Senate. The lawmaker has also called out Republican plans to cut funding for schools, abortion care and aid for Ukraine, among other things.

Jefferies said Friday that House Democrats are “ready, willing, and able” to vote for the Senate’s continuing resolution when it comes to the House. Because plans by House Republicans had failed, the bipartisan plan was the only option available, he said.

“What is the alternative? They tried a partisan continuing resolution, and they failed. And there is no way out of their Republican Civil War,” he said at a news conference.

Over the past few weeks, Jeffries has floated the possibility that House Democrats could work with moderate Republicans on a solution to fund the government. On Friday, however, he said, “so-called moderate members of the Republican Conference have been missing in action.”

Matt Gaetz

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican and conservative firebrand, has floated the possibility of using a motion that could oust McCarthy as speaker if he doesn’t get what he wants.

Gaetz, one of McCarthy’s most vocal critics, outlined a series of demands earlier this month, threatening to potentially remove the speaker. He has also warned that there could be daily votes to oust McCarthy.

“If we have to begin every single day in Congress with the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate then so be it,” he told reporters earlier this month.

In January, Gaetz played a prominent role in the opposition against McCarthy’s bid for House speaker.

Gaetz, who emerged as a supporter of former President Donald Trump after being elected to the House in 2016, is also the subject of a renewed House Ethics Committee investigation, CNN reported in July. Gaetz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and a long-running Justice Department investigation concluded in February without bringing charges.

Chuck Schumer

In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is also contending with a narrow majority. But Senate Democrats have joined with Republicans to put forward a bipartisan continuing resolution to prevent a shutdown.

And Schumer has called on McCarthy to get on board with the Senate’s solution.

On Friday, the New York senator urged McCarthy to give up his “doomed mission” and said, “it’s time for him to try bipartisanship” after a House GOP continuing resolution was voted down.

“Any more time the Speaker spends trying to cobble together hard-right wish lists that can’t even pass the House would be a grievous mistake,” the New York Democrat said.

Mitch McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has also come out in support of the Senate’s continuing resolution.

The Kentucky Republican warned Friday that the government shutdown could backfire on politicians, regardless of party.

“All this week, and every time we’ve found ourselves in the situation before, I’ve offered my colleagues the same warning: shutting down the government doesn’t help anybody politically,” he said during a speech on the Senate floor.

A large number of House Republicans, however, have already vocally criticized the Senate proposal, making it unlikely to pass in the chamber.

Rand Paul

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has threatened to slow down efforts to pass a stopgap bill if it includes aid for war-torn Ukraine, which the Senate’s bipartisan proposal does.

Because the Senate needs the consent of all 100 members to speed up the time it takes to consider a bill, Paul could potentially keep the chamber from passing the funding measure before the shutdown deadline.

He has clashed with his fellow Senate lawmakers over Ukraine funding before.

“If leadership insists on funding another country’s government at the expense of our own government, all blame rests with their intransigence,” he said in a Thursday post on X, the platform formally known as Twitter.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Clare Foran, Morgan Rimmer, Haley Talbot and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.

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