Angry McCarthy goads House Republicans in government shutdown fight

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A visibly frustrated U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy profanely goaded recalcitrant fellow Republicans in a standoff over federal spending, warning that "nobody wins" if the government is forced to shut down.

In a closed-door party meeting on Thursday, McCarthy directly addressed hardline critics who have been threatening to file a "motion to vacate" challenge to his leadership unless spending for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 is cut to a level $120 billion lower than McCarthy and Democratic President Joe Biden agreed to in May.

"What Kevin just said right now ... to that point: 'If somebody wants to file a motion to vacate, file the fucking motion to vacate,' and that's it. And stop holding up everybody's work," Representative Brian Mast told reporters.

Multiple Republican lawmakers described the exchange with McCarthy, who endured a grueling 15 votes to win the speakership in January, agreeing to changes including allowing just one lawmaker to call for a motion to vacate.

McCarthy declined to comment on his remarks.

The California Republican, facing opposition from his most conservative members, said the House of Representatives would remain in session from Monday until lawmakers agree on legislation to keep federal agencies afloat after current funding expires on Sept. 30.

"When we come back, we're not going to leave. We're going to get this done. Nobody wins in a government shutdown. Nobody wins in a government shutdown. I've been here," McCarthy told reporters.

McCarthy also said he would not "wait to the last minute" to move a short-term stopgap measure known as a continuing resolution, which would give lawmakers more time to negotiate full-scale appropriations legislation. He stopped short of saying it would emerge next week, but told reporters that such a measure could extend government operations for 30-60 days.

He spoke a day after Republican leaders were forced to pull an $886 billion defense appropriations bill, due to demands from hardline conservatives who refuse to support spending without policy riders on issues such as border security and an assurance that overall spending will be cut to a 2022 level of $1.47 trillion.

While a fight among Republicans on spending was holding up action in the House, the Senate on Thursday in an overwhelming 91-7 vote advanced its first package of spending bills.

Some members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus said they think a shutdown will be necessary to get Republicans to agree to their 2022 target, which is $120 billion below the level that McCarthy agreed to with President Joe Biden in May.

"We're going to have a shutdown. It's just a matter of how long," said Representative Ralph Norman, a prominent Freedom Caucus member.

More moderate Republicans oppose shutting the government down. They believe the House will pass compromise legislation at the $1.59 trillion level set by McCarthy and Biden.

"It's a mistake to shut down the government," Representative Don Bacon said. "It's so shortsighted to be pushing for a shutdown."

The federal government would enter its fourth shutdown in a decade beginning on Oct. 1 unless the Republican-controlled House and Democratic Senate can pass a long- or short-term funding bill and Biden signs it into law.

Political brinkmanship already has prompted the Fitch rating agency to downgrade U.S. debt to AA+ from its top-notch AAA designation, partly because of repeated down-to-the-wire negotiations that threaten the government's ability to pay its bills.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Scott Malone, Mark Porter and Lisa Shumaker)