This story was updated on October 2, 2023, at 7:00 p.m. to add Carter’s statement during an interview earlier in the day with Fox Business News host Maria Bartiromo.
Coastal Georgia U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter was a no-show in Saturday’s 11th-hour vote to avert a federal government shutdown.
The Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the official source for the chamber’s vote tallies, lists Carter and four other Republicans as “not voting” on a 45-day extension of the current budget.
In his weekly newsletter, emailed to constituents and posted on his congressional website a day after the vote, Carter lauded the passage of the interim spending bill and said he was “proud to support” it. A news release issued by his office the same day also said he endorsed the measure.
“I am thrilled that the House acted in a bipartisan manner to keep the government open and funded,” the news release quoted Carter as saying.
On Monday, asked directly by Fox Business News host Maria Bartiromo how he voted on the spending bill, Coastal Georgia’s five-term congressman again said he “supported” it.
In neither the newsletter nor the news release or in his response to Bartiromo, however, did Carter say that he hadn’t actually cast a vote on the bill.
It isn’t known why Carter wasn’t present for the vote Saturday afternoon. Nor is it clear how Carter reconciled his failure to vote for the bill with his expressions of support for it a day later — endorsements that at least one Atlanta news organization took to mean he had voted for the bill.
On Monday, Carter’s office confirmed that the congressman hadn’t voted. Asked why, Carter’s staff member said, “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him about it.”
The House approved the bipartisan deal to keep federal agencies open by a vote of 335-91, with 126 Republicans joining all but one of the chamber’s 208 Democrats in approving the measure. Ninety Republicans voted against the bill.
For the moment, at least, full-time civilian federal employees —including 2,597 in Hinesville and 2,598 in St. Marys — could breathe a sigh of relief. So could border control agents, Transportation Security Administration officers and air traffic controllers who would have been expected to work without pay, as well as families that rely on Head Start and food benefits.
‘Stuck on stupid’
In his Sunday newsletter recapping the tumultuous week in Washington, Carter blamed “fear mongering from the liberal media” for the mushrooming public anxiety about an impending shutdown.
He omitted from his account the fact that the ranks of his own Republican Party also sounded the alarm, as Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) lost control of his narrow, five-vote majority in the House and was pressured towards a shutdown by a small group of GOP hard-liners, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.
The hard-liners were egged on by former President Donald Trump who declared, “Unless you get everything, shut it down!”
Meanwhile, a group of 27 Republican representatives — including Bob Good (Va.), Andrew Clyde (Ga.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), and Paul Gosar (Ariz.) — implored McCarthy in a letter to clarify his legislative “end game.”
Writing on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter, Clyde said, “We need a plan. We need a timeline. We need leadership.”
Despite evidence suggesting the catalyst for the legislative turmoil was more about Republicans fighting other Republicans than about Republicans fighting Democrats, Carter insisted in his recap of the week that irresponsible Democrats were to blame for the pending shutdown.
The House’s fight over the budget “proved,” he said, that “Washington Democrats” were “more willing to shut down the government than they were our southern border.”
It’s true that McCarthy, in an attempt to shift attention from the infighting in his own ranks and drape the impending shutdown in a mantle of principle and policy, sought to include in the short-term funding bill measures that Republicans said would secure the border.
It’s also true that Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), a longtime Democratic voice on immigration reform, dismissed border-related additions to the spending measure as “unrealistic” 48 hours before a shutdown would have gone into effect.
Carter didn’t note, however, that a powerful Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) also opposed the border-related additions to the spending bill. He also said shutting down the government would only make matters on the border worse by making the “essential work of the Border Patrol and ICE even harder.”
Carter also didn’t note that it was Democrats, not Republicans, whom McCarthy was forced to lean on to pass the temporary budget measure and keep the government open — a position the Georgia Republican himself said he favored.
With the impasse between conservative and ultra-conservative House Republicans deepening last week and a government shutdown looming, Carter sought to minimize possible political fallout in the 1st District.
On Thursday and Friday, Carter’s office issued a flood of news releases announcing that Carter had helped obtain federal funding for programs across Coastal Georgia.
The funds, known as earmarks, are tucked into appropriations bills by lawmakers. They steer money to federal projects back home, bypassing executive branch oversight. Republicans banned the practice in 2011. But they were reinstituted in 2021 and since then, the use of earmarking by GOP lawmakers has dwarfed that of Democrats.
The federal funding disclosed by Carter last week included $240,436 for the Safe Harbor Center’s emergency shelter for homeless and runaway children in Brunswick; unspecified amounts of money to purchase bikes for the Glynn County Police Department and to purchase equipment for the Ware County Sheriff’s Office, City of Waycross Police Department and the Savannah Police Department; and an unspecified amount to the Georgia State University Research Foundation, Inc. to support the Sickle Cell Data Collection (SCDC) Program in Georgia.
In another news release, Carter took credit for helping obtain a donation of Albuterol inhalers from Cipla USA for the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.
Carter also announced he was co-sponsoring a bill guaranteeing that service members would be paid during the impending shutdown, though the congressman, in an interview with WJCL, implied that the bill was largely cosmetic.
Asked by WJCL 22’s Andy Cole if his legislation was likely to be passed before the government shutdown, Carter replied: “Well, I would be naïve to say yes, but at the same time, I’m always hopeful and always optimistic.”
By Friday, with a shutdown appearing all but certain, Carter seemed to embrace it, telling Cole:
“There are worse things that could happen than a shutdown. The worst thing would be if we were to continue on with this deficit spending that adds to our $33 trillion in debt.”
Whether pushing the budget process to the point of a government shutdown provided the best road map for governance and getting the process under control, Carter didn’t say.
On one of his two social media accounts on X, the former mayor of Pooler also invited those visiting his account on X to offer input.
“Please share your opinions on the best path forward for our nation’s finances. I’ll check in tonight to read through the comments,” he wrote.
‘Mark my word’
In the end, a federal government shutdown was averted when, with three hours to spare, an interim spending measure cleared Congress and went to President Joe Biden for his signature. And what Carter had predicted hadn’t come to pass.
In an interview with right-wing talk show host John Fredericks in mid-September, Carter had forecast that the House would pass an interim spending measure that would contain funding for Ukraine and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
“You mark my word [that’s] what’s going to happen,” he told Fredericks.
It didn’t. To win passage of the temporary budget measure, McCarthy stripped it of a request for $300 million in aid to Ukraine. FEMA received funding, however. Carter’s news release announcing his support for the stopgap spending bill didn’t indicate the amount.
Having turned to Democrats to avoid a shutdown, McCarthy now in the sights of the far-right House Republicans he failed to appease. On Sunday, Gaetz said he would seek the speaker’s ouster.
There was no immediate comment from Carter.