Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. on March 1, 2021.

Democrats challenge ‘MIA’ GOP centrists to team up and keep the government open

WASHINGTON — Top Democrats are calling on centrist House Republicans to team up with them to keep the government open after GOP hardliners tanked their party’s short-term funding bill.

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Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said Republicans can sign an existing “discharge petition” that requires just six GOP signatures to force a House vote on a non-controversial continuing resolution, or CR, that would prevent a government shutdown.

That would require breaking with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, which even the most moderate Republicans are reluctant to do. Boyle said if they’re serious about a solution, now is the time to champion the bipartisan Senate CR, which he called a “fair” stopgap measure that both parties favor and is “about as neutral as it gets.” That bill would fund the government through Nov. 17.

“The irony is the Republican members who are the most endangered in November [2024] are the ones who are just MIA right now. … It’s time for them to assert themselves — hell, it’s in their interest to assert themselves,” Boyle told NBC News on Friday. “Because at the end of the day, it’s not Marjorie Taylor Greene or Matt Gaetz or [Matt] Rosendale losing their seats in November.”

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Boyle said the Democrats’ discharge petition vehicle that they had planned to use during debt ceiling battle, but didn’t, remains active and can be repurposed for a government funding bill. It has already sat in committee for 30 days, meaning once it gets enough signatures it can move toward a House floor vote in seven days.

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That wouldn’t be in time to avoid a shutdown, but it could be used to end one.

Some Republicans in competitive districts — including Reps. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., and Don Bacon, R-Neb. — have said they’d be willing to work with Democrats on a discharge petition, if necessary, to keep the government open. But so far, none of them have announced that they’re ready to add their signatures.

“It doesn’t matter what the procedure is. The bottom line is there’s going to be a CR that gets passed,” Lawler told reporters. “The bottom line is a number of us will do what needs to be done to make sure that the government is functioning.”

Democratic leaders said Friday they should do it quickly, with just one day to go before the government shuts down.

“These so-called moderate members of the Republican conference have been missing in action. All talk, no action,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., told reporters.

“Because there is a vehicle that is in front of us right now to come together with the Democratic members of the House to avoid a catastrophic government shutdown,” he said. “There are a variety of different procedural vehicles that are available to us, including a discharge petition, one of which that is live. And then all we would need are six Republicans to partner with us and we can move legislation to the floor that would end this GOP government shutdown and this national nightmare for the American people.”

Boyle said Republican centrists should learn to stand up for themselves the way Democratic moderates did over the last two years, when they repeatedly flexed power to shape policy outcomes.

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“Look at the difference between the last two years in terms of how many times the Democratic moderates, both in the House and the Senate, asserted themselves and impacted policy,” Boyle said. “Look at the difference. Right now, it is clearly the Freedom Caucus, MAGA caucus types that are absolutely driving the bus.”

The White House is branding the lapse as “an Extreme Republican Shutdown that will damage our economy and national security.”

Asked about some Republicans potentially signing a discharge petition, center-right Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., said the 21 hardliners who tanked the GOP’s short-term bill, which included spending cuts and conservative provisions, could be hastening an outcome that is more friendly to Democrats.

“This is the most conservative continuing resolution that’s ever been on the floor in American history. If that wasn’t enough to unify Republicans, then I am concerned that future solutions aren’t going to be as conservative,” Johnson said. “I do think the holdouts are making a less conservative outcome far more likely.”

Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is a senior national political reporter for NBC News.

Scott Wong and Rebecca Kaplancontributed.