1st October 2023 – (Washington) Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the US House of Representatives, expressed confidence on Sunday (Oct 1) that he would withstand a challenge to his speakership. A hardline critic within his party, Representative Matt Gaetz, called for McCarthy’s removal after a stopgap government funding bill passed with more support from Democrats than Republicans.
Gaetz announced his intention to file a “motion to vacate,” which would trigger a vote to remove McCarthy as speaker. This move will test McCarthy’s support in the House, where his party holds a narrow 221-212 majority.
“I’ll survive,” McCarthy stated during an interview with CBS, adding, “This is personal with Gaetz.”
Gaetz is among a group of approximately two dozen hardliners who previously subjected McCarthy to a gruelling 15 rounds of voting before he was elected speaker in January. During that process, they secured concessions, including a rule change allowing any House member to call for a vote to oust the speaker.
The level of support McCarthy would have in such a vote remains uncertain, and it is unclear whether any Democrats would back him. McCarthy drew criticism from Democrats last month when he launched an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden.
Gaetz, in an interview with ABC, stated, “If at this time next week Kevin McCarthy is still speaker of the House, it will be because Democrats bailed him out. I am relentless, and I will continue to pursue this objective.”
McCarthy surprised Washington on Saturday when he supported a bill to fund the government through November 17, avoiding a partial shutdown. However, the bill did not include the spending cuts or changes to border security that his hardline colleagues had demanded.
The Senate approved the bill with broad bipartisan support, and President Biden signed it into law. The purpose of the bill is to provide lawmakers more time to reach an agreement on funding the government until September 30, 2024.
If McCarthy were to be ousted as speaker, it would complicate the government funding process.
Representative Mike Lawler, a Republican, criticized the move to vacate the chair, saying on ABC, “It is destructive to the country to put forth this motion to vacate… Matt Gaetz is going to delay the ability to complete that work over the next 45 days.”
Gaetz had been threatening to take action against McCarthy for several weeks. Republican Representative Byron Donalds, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus who had been nominated to challenge McCarthy for speaker in January, declined to disclose how he would vote, stating that he needed time to consider the situation.
McCarthy made the decision to bring a vote on a measure that could gain Democratic support, fully aware that it could put his position at risk. One of his advisers told Reuters that the speaker believed some hardliners would attempt to remove him regardless of the circumstances.
“Go ahead and try,” McCarthy challenged his opponents on Saturday. “You know what? If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that.”
The bipartisan measure passed a day after a Republican stopgap bill, backed by Representative Andy Biggs and other hardliners, was blocked. The stopgap bill included significant spending cuts and immigration and border restrictions, which the hardliners favoured.
The failure of the stopgap bill ended Republican hopes of advancing a conservative measure and paved the way for the bipartisan bill, which received support from 209 House Democrats and 126 Republicans. Ninety Republicans opposed the stopgap bill.
Hardliners criticized the continuing resolution (CR), as the bipartisan bill is known, for maintaining policies favoured by Democrats, including President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The response from Democrats is uncertain if a Republican motion to vacate the chair is voted on. Some Democrats have suggested they could support McCarthy during this turbulent time, while others have proposed backing a moderate Republican who would share power within House committees. Some Democrats have shown no interest in supporting any candidate for speaker other than House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent progressive Democrat, stated that her party would be unlikely to help McCarthy keep his position without receiving concessions from Republicans.
“I don’t think we give up votes for free,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN’s State of the Union.
When asked if she would vote to remove McCarthy, Ocasio-Cortez replied, “Would I cast that vote? Absolutely. Absolutely. I think Kevin McCarthy is a very weak Speaker. He clearly has lost control of his caucus.”