Washington roundup: Shutdown averted, a march for Israel, Santos exits and March gets new theme

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This week in Washington
(OSV News photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — Lawmakers averted a federal government shutdown just a few days ahead of their deadline, as busloads gathered in Washington in a show of support for Israel and to protest antisemitism, and a controversial congressman declined a re-election bid after a damning report by the House Ethics Committee.

Shutdown averted, for now

President Joe Biden signed a temporary spending bill just one day before a potential government shutdown, averting such a development until at least mid-January.

A spending package backed by the new House Speaker Mike Johnson continues funding at current levels for about two months, so lawmakers can negotiate a longer-term package in the new year, he said.

The package agreed upon by lawmakers divides funding to create two deadlines for passing full-year appropriations bills: Jan. 19 for some federal agencies and Feb. 2 for the Defense Department and other agencies. The staggered dates mean lawmakers face the possibility of a partial government shutdown.

Jan. 19 is also the date the 2024 national March for Life event is scheduled in Washington, and so a partial shutdown could have an impact on that event.

Both sides praised the deal as a win before Biden signed it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., praised the House passage of the bill in a Nov. 14 statement, emphasizing he would work with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to ensure passage in the upper chamber.

“In a divided government, both sides need to embrace bipartisanship to pass legislation that can help the American public,” Schumer said. “I’m happy the House passed this bill that excludes hard-right partisan cuts and poison pills with a strong bipartisan vote.”

In a Nov. 14 statement, Johnson said the measure “puts House Republicans in the best position to fight for conservative policy victories.”

“The innovative two-step approach takes Washington’s preferred Christmas omnibus monstrosity off the table, shifts the government funding paradigm moving forward, and enhances our ability to rein in the Biden administration’s failed policies and government spending,” Johnson said. “We also are better positioned in the upcoming supplemental debate to demand Border Security, ensure oversight of Ukraine aid, and support our cherished ally, Israel.”

However the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other advocacy groups have cautioned against allowing a government shutdown to happen, urging lawmakers to come to an agreement and keep the government open to avoid the detrimental impact a shutdown could have on the poor and vulnerable, or even a disruption to ministry for U.S. military personnel.

Tensions increase on Capitol Hill

The conclusion came after a tense week on Capitol Hill, which included at least two near-brawls involving lawmakers.

Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., one of the Republican lawmakers who voted to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., alleged the California Republican elbowed him while walking past him while he was speaking with a reporter. Burchett later told CNN McCarthy delivered “a clean shot to the kidneys,” and called McCarthy “the type of guy that when you were a kid would throw a rock over the fence and ride home and hide behind his mama’s skirt.”

McCarthy later denied the allegation, telling reporters, “If I were to hit somebody, they would know I hit them.”

In a separate incident, Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., threatened to fight Sean M. O’Brien, president of the Teamsters, during a hearing. The pair previously shot barbs at one another in other hearings and on social media.

“We can be two consenting adults, we can finish it here,” Mullin told O’Brien, to which he replied, “Okay that’s fine, perfect.”

Mullin told O’Brien to “stand your butt up then,” with the union boss replying, “you stand your butt up, big guy.”

As Mullin stood and appeared to be about to remove his wedding band, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told Mullin to sit down and reminded him “you are a United States senator.”

“This is a hearing,” Sanders said. “God knows the American people have enough contempt for Congress.”

House ethics panel finds ‘overwhelming evidence’ of Santos’ lawbreaking

Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., said he will not seek reelection to Congress after the House Ethics Committee issued a report detailing what it called “overwhelming evidence of his misconduct.” The committee referred the evidence from its investigation (which compiled 170,000 pages of documents) to the Justice Department.

The report said the committee found evidence of false or incomplete reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, the use of campaign funds for personal expenditures, and violations of the Ethics in Government Act over financial disclosure statements. The report added Santos was not cooperative with the investigation.

“Particularly troubling was Representative Santos’ lack of candor during the investigation itself,” the report said.

In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Santos called the report a “disgusting politicized smear.”

“This was a dirty biased act and one that tramples all over my rights,” he said, adding he would hold a press conference later in November on his “year from hell.”

March for Israel draws busloads to National Mall to protest antisemitism

An estimated tens of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall Nov. 14 in a show of solidarity for Israel in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on that country and to protest at antisemitism around the globe. Protesters also demanded the release of hostages abducted by the Palestinian militant organization — officially designated a terrorist group by the U.S. — which rules over Gaza.

A bipartisan and bicameral delegation of congressional leadership spoke at the event, while lawmakers from the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism, including longtime Catholic Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., led the rally in prayer.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is Jewish, told the crowd, “We are here united, Democrat and Republican, House and Senate, to say we stand with Israel.”

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., an evangelical Christian, said, “There are a few issues in Washington that could so easily bring together leaders of both parties in both chambers, but the survival of the State of Israel and her people unites us together and unites all Americans.”

Deborah Lipstadt, President Joe Biden’s special envoy for combating antisemitism, cited George Washington’s 1790 letter “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island,” in which the first president pledged to Jewish Americans that they were welcome in the new United States. The letter is historically notable, as it pledged more than the religious tolerance some other nations adopted, but advocated for true equality for a minority religious group.

Over 230 years ago, “President George Washington reassured the Jews of Newport that our new nation would give bigotry no sanction, and persecution no assistance,” Lipstadt said. “His meaning and his message were quite specific: In the United States of America, the bigotry of antisemitism must have no place, no quarter, no haven, no home.”

She called on Americans to “echo our founding father unequivocally and unreservedly” and pledge that “today in America we give antisemitism no sanction, no foothold, no tolerance, not on campus, not in grade school, not in our neighborhoods, not in our streets of the streets of our cities. Not in our government. Nowhere, not now, not ever.”

March for Life announces 2024 theme

The national March for Life’s theme for its 2024 event is “Pro-Life: With Every Woman, For Every Child,” the group’s president announced Nov. 14.

Jeanne Mancini, March for Life president, said at an event in Washington that the theme was selected due to what she called “the false narrative around abortion, whether it’s through mainstream media or the entertainment industry or academia, is that abortion is empowering and necessary.”

“We disagree,” she said. “Such fear-based messaging tries to convince women who are facing unexpected pregnancies that they’re alone, that they are incapable, that they are ill-equipped to handle motherhood. We who are here today know that is just not true. We aren’t saying that it’s easy. But we are saying that it is right to choose life and we hold that choosing life is empowering, and that love saves lives.”

The national march is scheduled for Jan. 19. The 2024 event takes place in both a presidential election year, and one that could bring additional ballot measures on abortion, possibly in states including Arizona and Florida.

Ohio voters voted in November to enshrine abortion protections in their state constitution. The loss marked another electoral defeat for anti-abortion ballot measures in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision: In 2022, voters in California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Kansas either rejected new limitations on abortion or expanded legal protections for it.

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.