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This Republican congressman is fighting to avoid a government shutdown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are nine days away from what is looking more and more likely to be a government shutdown. Over the coming days, we will be reporting on the real consequences if a shutdown does come to pass, from veterans who don't receive their benefits to federal employees who get furloughed to your flight getting canceled if the FAA and TSA are not at full strength. The chief obstacle to moving spending bills forward is not partisan bickering - not this time - but infighting among Republicans, specifically among Republicans in the House. They control that chamber but cannot reach agreement on how best to cut spending. Well, one moderate Republican is calling this seemingly intractable situation, quote, "a clown show." That Republican is Mike Lawler of New York. Congressman Lawler, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MIKE LAWLER: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: A clown show. Explain what you mean.

LAWLER: Well, listen. The American people elected a House Republican majority to serve as a check and balance on the Biden administration and to rein in reckless spending and to rightsize our government. But in order to do that, we have to work cohesively within the House caucus to do it. And unfortunately, we have some folks who are refusing to cooperate in a serious and meaningful way to find compromise within the caucus. You need 218 votes. And some of these people are just stuck on this mindset that it's their way or the highway and that if they don't get what they want, they're going to stomp their feet and, you know, throw a temper tantrum until they do so.

KELLY: The clowns in this analogy are the far-right members of your party.

LAWLER: It's not even whether they're far right or not. I mean, it's a handful of people who, throughout the course of the year, have proven themselves time and again to operate like this. And it's just totally inappropriate when you're within a conference. You know, these are the same people who voted against Kevin McCarthy despite the majority of the conference supporting him. These are the same people that have continually voted down rules despite, you know, a rule not failing in, you know, nearly 20 years. They don't care. And so as far as I'm concerned, when that's the situation, they basically leave people that are reasonable with very little choice but to find ways to work across the aisle.

KELLY: When speaking of accomplishing things or not accomplishing things, we are seeing news that the House is giving up on negotiations and about to dismiss and go home until Tuesday. Is that right?

LAWLER: That seems to be the report. But, you know, look. I don't think we should be going home at this point. We have a lot of work to do between now and September 30. I think, you know, frankly, these folks who, once again, after agreeing to move an appropriations bill, stalled it once more - you know, they should be here, working like everyone else. And so, you know, my feeling is that we should stay and we should work on these issues.

KELLY: The context here is, of course, that Speaker McCarthy enjoys only a four-vote margin in the House. Your colleagues are threatening, if they don't get their way, to put a process in motion to oust him. How much, Congressman - how much of what we're watching in Congress this week is Speaker McCarthy looking out for his own political future?

LAWLER: I don't think that's a fair assessment at all. I mean, the speaker has been working tirelessly to get the members to work as a conference. He's but one voice. And, you know, unlike Nancy Pelosi, who controlled everything with an iron grip, he has allowed the rank-and-file members to play a role in crafting legislation in the process. And so, you know, obviously it's messy at times. This is messier than I think anybody would want, including the speaker. But I don't think it's fair to say that he's putting his own interests ahead of the conference - not in the least.

KELLY: Is any of this raising questions in your mind about your party's ability to govern?

LAWLER: No. You're talking about a handful of people who right now are, you know, trying to exert pressure on the conference to get what they view as, you know, what the spending cuts should be and what the numbers should be. But I think as a conference, we have been able to advance a lot of legislation in the first nine months. We have been able to continue...

KELLY: Although just today you all failed to advance the defense spending bill. That was - in the previous shutdown under the Trump administration, Congress at least got that done - not this time.

LAWLER: Well, we still have nine days left. Obviously, we would like to see that bill debated and moved, and we'll continue to push for that. But this Congress has been serving as a check and balance on the Biden agenda. It's been able to stop a lot of the reckless spending. Obviously, the spending levels that this administration would like to continue at are not going to happen. And so that's, you know, a big part of what this debate and discussion is about. But ultimately, we're going to have to find compromise both within the conference and certainly working with the Senate and the White House to get to final appropriations bills. That's the objective. And that's what I and most of my colleagues will continue to work towards.

KELLY: A last question, and you can answer it in a word. How likely do you believe a shutdown is after September 30 - scale of 1 to 10?

LAWLER: Well, I'm not going to put a likelihood on it. I am going to do everything I can to avoid that. And I think most of my colleagues would like to avoid that. So we're going to keep working over the next nine days to make sure that that doesn't happen.

KELLY: Republican Congressman Mike Lawler of New York. Congressman, thank you.

LAWLER: Thanks. 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.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Sarah Handel
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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