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It's likely House Republicans will need Democrats' help to avoid government shutdown

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Congress, House Republicans are trying to pass a bill this week to keep the government open into the New Year. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries says that will only happen with his party's votes.

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: In all likelihood, House Republicans will need to partner with House Democrats in order to keep the government open.

MARTÍNEZ: Jeffries spoke with my colleague Steve Inskeep.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's commonly said that in the House of Representatives, the majority has all the power, though not when the majority is as narrow and unstable as House Republicans are. They needed the Democratic minority to help avoid a government shutdown in September. Working with Democrats cost former Speaker Kevin McCarthy his job when his party's right wing turned against him, and Democrats stood aside as he fell. Now a new speaker, Mike Johnson, is trying to pass a temporary spending bill, just as McCarthy did. And it seems likely that Johnson, too, will need Democratic support, just as McCarthy did. Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader from New York, seems ready to help.

JEFFRIES: Extreme MAGA Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they cannot govern without House Democrats. That will be the case this week in the context of avoiding a government shutdown, and it will remain the case throughout the balance of this Congress.

INSKEEP: With that said, it appears that Speaker Johnson is crafting a continuing resolution, a bill to keep the government open temporarily that would not keep all government agencies open the same length of time, which raises the prospect of more than one deadline, more than one government shutdown. Why would anyone in your party say yes to that?

JEFFRIES: We have made clear that there are several important criteria for us to evaluate, including making sure that the continuing resolution funds the government at the fiscal year 2023 levels with no spending cuts. That appears to be the case. We have also made clear that Democratic support for any continuing resolution would fall apart if the continuing resolution included right-wing policy provisions designed to undermine reproductive freedom, get rid of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, or target the LGBTQ+ community. Our current evaluation of the continuing resolution presented by Speaker Johnson is that it does not include extraneous and extreme right-wing policy provisions.

INSKEEP: I think I'm hearing you saying that this is a formula that Democrats are likely to be able to support.

JEFFRIES: Well, we have to have a House Democratic Caucus conversation, and we are concerned with the bifurcated approach to having different deadlines for funding different aspects of the federal government. At the same time, we're taking a look at the substance of the continuing resolution proposed by Speaker Johnson to determine whether it meets the needs of the American people.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about Speaker Johnson, who, of course, just rose to that position a few weeks ago. What is your working relationship with him at this point?

JEFFRIES: We have had several positive, forward-looking and direct conversations over the last week or two since he ascended into the position. And those discussions have been candid and, I think, held in good faith as part of an effort to try to find common ground whenever possible. It's my hope that Speaker Johnson will continue to embrace a partnership when it comes to meeting the needs of the American people, while understanding that there will be multiple times where Democrats and Republicans will fiercely agree to disagree.

INSKEEP: Do you view him as a member of his party's extreme right wing, as someone who is trying to control his party's extreme right wing, as some other way that you would define him? How do you see him?

JEFFRIES: Well Speaker Johnson's, you know, views in terms of the very conservative end of the spectrum speak for themselves. But now he is in a different position where he has to manage the entirety of the House Republican Conference and figure out a way to move the country forward in a manner that takes into account the reality that Joe Biden is the president of the United States, and Democrats are in the majority in the United States Senate.

INSKEEP: Mr. Jeffries, of course, up to now, we've just been talking about keeping the government open for a couple of months, perhaps, and not talked about the substantive bills that Congress may need to pass on any number of issues, one of which, of course, is support for Israel. You have supported Israel up to now. You have opposed what you view as extreme language against Israel. But of course, civilian casualties are growing in Gaza. Are you in a different place than some of your voter coalition on the Democratic side?

JEFFRIES: Well, in my view, it's important to continue to support President Biden and his effort to accomplish three objectives. One, we are going to continue to support Israel's effort to decisively defeat Hamas. Second, it's important that we find a way to do everything possible to bring the hostages home safely. Third, I strongly support President Biden's effort to secure humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians who are in harm's way through no fault of their own.

INSKEEP: Do you think that Israel is managing that third goal, humanitarian aid, avoiding civilian casualties where possible?

JEFFRIES: I think it's important that Israel continue to do everything that it can to defeat Hamas following the international rules of war and allowing for the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians who are in harm's way.

INSKEEP: Would you make any warning or advice to Israel saying, effectively, I support you, but don't go too far, you'll hurt your own cause?

JEFFRIES: Well, that is for the Biden administration to continue to work through with Israel. But we have to stand behind Israel and its right to defend itself, particularly in the context of the brutal, horrific terrorist attack that occurred on October 7, and the need to decisively defeat Hamas.

INSKEEP: Hakeem Jeffries, thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it.

JEFFRIES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE'S "AFTER THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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