Speaker Kevin McCarthy is confronting his hard-right critics head-on Tuesday as he faces a historic challenge to oust him from leadership, insisting he will not cut a deal with Democrats to remain in power and setting the stage for an extraordinary and unpredictable showdown on the House floor.
The Republican McCarthy’s fate is deeply uncertain as he faces what’s known as a “motion to vacate” from Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a strident critic allied with Donald Trump. It would take the support of only a handful of Republicans from his slim majority to remove McCarthy as Speaker if Democrats vote in favor alongside the conservative rebels.
Behind closed doors Tuesday, McCarthy told fellow Republicans: Let’s get on with it.
“If I counted how many times someone wanted to knock me out, I would have been gone a long time ago,” McCarthy said at the Capitol after a private morning meeting.
It’s a stunning moment for the embattled McCarthy that serves as the most severe challenge yet, a potential punishment sparked by his weekend decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown. So far, several hard-right Republicans said they are ready to oppose McCarthy, many of them who fought in January during his prolonged battle to gain the gavel.
A procedural vote was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon on a motion to table, or shelve, the effort for now.
The Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to colleagues that he wants to work with Republicans, but he was unwilling to provide the votes needed to save McCarthy.
“It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War,” Jeffries said, announcing the Democratic leadership would vote for the motion to oust the Speaker.
At the Capitol, both Republicans and Democrats met privately behind closed doors ahead of what would be a historic afternoon vote.
McCarthy insisted he had not reached across the aisle to the Democratic Leader Jeffries for help with votes to stay in the job, nor had they demanded anything in return.
During the hour-long meeting in the Capitol basement, McCarthy invoked Republican Speaker Joseph Cannon, who more than 100 years ago confronted his critics head on by calling their bluff and setting the vote himself on his ouster. Cannon survived that take-down attempt which, until now, was the first time the House had actually voted to consider removing its Speaker.
McCarthy received three standing ovations during the private meeting — one when he came to the microphone to speak, again during his remarks and lastly when he was done, according a Republican at the meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it.
At one point, there was a show of hands in support of McCarthy and it was “overwhelming,” said South Carolina Republican Rep. Ralph Norman, a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Gaetz was in attendance, but did not address the room.
On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats lined up for a long discussion and unified around one common point: McCarthy cannot be trusted, several lawmakers in the room said. “I think it’s safe to say there’s not a lot of good will in that room for Kevin McCarthy,” said Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Richard Neal.
“At the end of the day, the country needs a Speaker that can be relied upon,” said California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff. “We don’t trust him. Their members don’t trust him. And you need a certain degree of trust to be the Speaker.”
Rep. Brad Schneider, an Illinois Democrat, said “McCarthy got himself in this mess. It’s up to McCarthy to get himself out.”
“We are always the adults in the room,” said Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. “McCarthy said he doesn’t need our help,” she said. “He has made his bed.”
The vote ahead would involve a motion to table the Gaetz proposal, which means that lawmakers would be voting to set it aside for now.
But if the motion to table fails, the House would prepare for an extraordinary floor debate ahead of a final roll call on McCarthy’s ouster, though the actual timing of that vote could be postponed.
Removing the Speaker would launch the House Republicans into chaos, as they try to find a new leader. It took McCarthy himself 15 rounds in January over multiple days of voting before he secured the support from his colleagues to gain the gavel. There is no obvious GOP successor.
McCarthy appeared confident he would win this round, but acknowledged it may not be the last word. Gaetz has indicated he is not done fighting the Speaker, and could try again as many times as he likes.
One key McCarthy ally, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, has taken to social media urging support for “our Speaker” and an end to the chaos that has roiled the Republican majority.
The snap vote this week comes as Republicans are trying to make progress on a key demand from Gaetz and others, which is to move ahead with the 12 annual spending bills and prevent another stopgap measure like the one Congress approved last weekend hours before the government shutdown deadline.
Republicans are upset that McCarthy relied on Democratic votes Saturday to approve the temporary measure to keep the government running until Nov. 17. Some would have preferred a government shutdown as they fight for deeper spending cuts.
But Democrats are also upset at McCarthy for walking away from the debt deal that he made with President Joe Biden earlier this year that already set federal spending levels as he emboldens his right-flank to push for steep spending reductions.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.