The Catchup: 5 major politics stories this week, from a likely government shutdown to the UAW strike

Jon Ward is a Yahoo News senior correspondent who has covered national politics for over 15 years.

You’re shifting gears to head into the weekend, so here are the top five political stories worth remembering this week.

The week of Sept. 18, 2023, began with the return of American hostages Monday from Iran in a prisoner swap negotiated by the Biden administration, and with President Biden on Tuesday urging the United Nations General Assembly to hold firm against Russia's attempt to conquer Ukraine.

Also Tuesday, a Pew Research Poll showed that 65% of Americans are "exhausted" by politics, and a Yahoo News/YouGov survey found "dread" to be the top response (41%) of people when asked how they feel about the 2024 election, followed by "exhaustion" at 34%.

Next week will have a lot of political news. We’ll see the Republican presidential candidates hold their second debate on Wednesday. House Republicans will hold the first hearing of their impeachment inquiry on Thursday. And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will have to figure out how to pass a government funding bill through the lower chamber of Congress to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30.

But here’s what I think stood out from this past week.

Government shutdown looms as House Republicans struggle to govern

It was a miserable week for Kevin McCarthy. He spent days trying to get his 221 House Republicans — they outnumber the 212 House Democrats — to agree to pass a defense appropriations bill that has no chance of becoming law in the Senate. And he couldn’t even do that.

Why it matters

The House and the Senate have to agree on a spending package to fund the government before a Sept. 30 deadline. President Biden must also sign it. If they cannot all agree on something, the federal government will shut down.

By the end of the week, there was increasing talk of McCarthy cutting a deal with Democrats to fund the government. Hard-line Republicans in the House have threatened to remove him from the speakership if he does that.

McCarthy is caught between concessions he made to hard-right Republicans earlier this year to become speaker in the first place. One demand he agreed to at the time was a provision that makes it easier for Republicans to remove him from his post.

Many hard-line rank-and-file Republicans represent congressional districts that are so overwhelmingly conservative that the quickest way for them to lose their jobs is by losing a Republican primary. That dynamic incentivizes these lawmakers to reject any cooperation with Democrats, including on a budget deal, in order not to be labeled sellouts.

Other Republicans, such as Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, are using Congress as a platform to make a name for themselves in preparation for potentially running for a higher office in their home state, such as governor.

Good reads on this

USA Today: How likely is a government shutdown and who will be affected? What you need to know

Semafor: McCarthy foes eye higher office

Politico: Centrist Dems and McCarthy's allies are in secret talks to strike a deal

Reuters: Trump urges government shutdown in unlikely bid to 'defund' his criminal prosecutions

UAW strike heats up

One week in, an agreement did not appear close at hand to end the strike by the United Auto Workers union. As of noon Friday, the UAW is set to expand the number of plants where workers will walk off the job.

Why it matters

According to the Associated Press: "The UAW is seeking pay raises of more than 30% over four years, a restoration of defined-benefit pensions for all workers, and a 32-hour work week for 40 hours of pay. The companies are offering around 20% on pay and are staunchly resisting some of the union's other demands."

"The UAW has amassed enough money to pay all of its members to stay out on strike against Detroit's Big Three automakers for as long as 11 weeks," according to Politico.

Automakers struck back with layoffs of a few thousand employees and said the workers would not get unemployment benefits until a new contract is reached and the strike ended.

Good reads on this

The AP: Jeep maker Stellantis makes a new contract offer as auto workers prepare to expand their strike

Politico: Could the UAW strike last 11 weeks? It could be even longer.

Reuters: UAW strikes at automakers highlight skyrocketing U.S. CEO pay

Axios: How the UAW's Shawn Fain is using Christian rhetoric during the strike

Biden says Trump will destroy democracy

President Biden issued a stark warning about the peril he says would confront America if former President Donald Trump regained power. “Let there be no question, Donald Trump and his MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy,” Biden said at a Monday evening fundraiser in New York.

Why it matters

Biden also said a Trump reelection would inaugurate a slide into authoritarianism around the world. “I will not side with dictators like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Maybe Trump and his MAGA friends can bow down but I won’t.”

Even in an age of hyperbolic rhetoric, it was a remarkable statement for a sitting president to make. But it is grounded in Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election by summoning a mob to Washington, D.C., which then assaulted the U.S. Capitol.

Biden has been trying to promote his economic record, with limited political success. So the democracy message may become more of an emphasis.

Good reads on this

The AP: Biden tells a Broadway theater packed for fundraiser that Trump is determined to destroy the nation

Yahoo News: Trump pulls even with Biden in Yahoo News/YouGov poll

ABC News: 'We'll be fine': Top U.S. military officer confident there won't be a Jan. 6 repeat

Ukrainian PresidentZelensky visits Washington

Volodymyr Zelensky met with members of Congress Thursday after a speech at the United Nations meeting in New York earlier in the week. It's a difficult moment for Zelensky: Support in Washington has softened among Republicans, and Ukrainian battlefield momentum has stalled. But he came to lobby lawmakers for much-needed financial assistance.

Why it matters

A $24 billion aid package is one of the items caught up in the congressional disagreement over funding the government. The Biden administration is pushing for the money, but some House Republicans, and a few Senate Republicans, are opposed.

Ukrainian efforts to push Russian forces further back toward Russia and out of Ukraine have faced stiff resistance.

It was a more muted second trip to Washington for the Ukrainian leader. Zelensky received a hero’s welcome during his previous visit, in December 2022, when he spoke to a joint session of Congress and received standing ovations.

Good reads on this

The AP: Zelensky delivers upbeat message to U.S. lawmakers on war progress as some Republican support softens

ABC News: Zelensky lobbies Congress for Ukraine aid at center of GOP spending battle

Fed holds steady on rates and inflation

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday held off on an increase in interest rates, holding baseline borrowing costs at a range of 5.25% to 5.5%. But the Fed also said there may be one more modest increase this year, and that rates will probably stay roughly the same next year, dashing hopes of rate cuts in 2024.

Why it matters

The central bank is trying to ease inflation down from a 40-year high without causing a recession. Higher rates ease inflation but hurt the economy overall.

The stock market reacted negatively to the news that rate decreases may not be forthcoming.

But longer term, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell was cautiously optimistic that the Fed can continue easing inflation down without too much economic pain. Economic growth and labor market projections are now more positive for the future than they were a few months ago.

Good reads on this

UPI: Fed keeps interest rates steady as inflation cools

Axios: Fed officials see way out of inflation woes without major economic pain

Reuters: Fed keeps rates steady, toughens policy stance as 'soft landing' hopes grow

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