Ukraine tensions, budget infighting: another testy week in Washington

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to members of the media in Statuary Hall at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on October 2, 2023AFP

Washington lawmakers' last-minute dodge to avoid a government shutdown over the weekend will keep the lights on for another few weeks -- but the deal leaves significant questions unanswered, including whether the United States will continue sending aid to Ukraine and whether House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will keep his job.

Here are a few points to help decipher the drama unfolding on Capitol Hill.

Budget unresolved

The continuing resolution passed by Congress on Saturday night gives the federal government some breathing room, but negotiators have only 45 days to agree on a full spending plan for 2024.

If a budget for the next fiscal year doesn't pass both chambers by midnight on November 17, last week's arbitrations will have been for naught, and the United States will enter a shutdown anyway.

The main sticking points remain the same now as it was before the weekend agreement: a few far-right representatives in the House, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans, want to enact a bare-bones spending plan that the Senate, controlled by Democrats, would almost certainly refuse to pass.

Ukraine aid unclear

Among the issues still up in the air is military aid for Ukraine as the country fights the Russian invasion that began last year.

The text adopted this weekend does not include provisions for Kyiv, despite calls from the White House and Senate to incorporate it.

Still, Democrats hope to pass a separate aid measure in the coming days, though it is unclear if such a package would include the $24 billion president Joe Biden had originally sought.

The faction of far-right Republican House members says money sent to Ukraine could be better spent dealing with the immigration crisis at the US-Mexico border.

And House Speaker McCarthy has said he will require certain guarantees before introducing a new aid bill.

McCarthy in peril

But McCarthy is facing dissent even from his own Republican camp, with Trump-loyalist Matt Gaetz accusing the speaker of devising a "secret deal" with Biden to green-light Ukraine aid.

In retaliation for the supposed betrayal, Gaetz has launched a bid to oust McCarthy -- whose far-right support was already shaky even before the latest spending fight -- from his post.

Gaetz introduced a motion to vacate the speakership late Monday, vowing that if McCarthy continues in his role, it will not be "as a consequence of Republican votes."

The 58-year-old McCarthy was narrowly elected to the speakership in January, after ultra-conservative so-called "Freedom Caucus" lawmakers withheld their support for 14 rounds of voting.

To finally win them over on the 15th try, McCarthy had to offer a number of concessions, including that any representative would have the right to introduce a vote to remove him from power.

Such a vote, which would require a majority of the House's total membership to succeed, could now take place within days after Gaetz's motion.

But it could leave McCarthy reliant on Democratic votes to remain speaker -- though their support is not guaranteed, as the party weighs whether to rescue their traditional opponent from an even greater mutual adversary, or to let him flounder.