Status: 02.10.2023, 09:50 a.m.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) with Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Jan. 6 during McCarthy's efforts to win the House Speaker post. © Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
An open power struggle is breaking out among the Republicans in the House of Representatives. Representative Matt Gaetz announces that he wants to overthrow the president of the congressional chamber.
Washington, D.C. - The decision was always his.
With a Democratic-led Senate willing to fund government in a bipartisan manner and a Democratic president in the White House, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would ultimately have to make the decisive decision on whether to avert a government shutdown.
After exhausting all avenues to fund the government with conservative votes alone, McCarthy sided with the Republicans, who suggested that he circumvent a procedural hurdle that obstructionists had previously used against the conference and propose a bill that would appease the Democrats enough to keep the government going.
This proposal became law. But he could have a price: his job.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said Sunday he was determined to oust McCarthy from his leadership position after McCarthy, with the support of the Democrats, passed a bridging measure to fund the administration.
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Gaetz said on CNN's "State of the Union" that he plans to file a motion to remove McCarthy later this week, in a dramatic escalation of long-simmering tensions between the two men. Once he has done so, the House of Representatives has 48 hours to vote on it.
"I think we need to rip off the band-aid. I think we need to move forward with new leadership that is trustworthy," Gaetz said.
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Obstructionist politicians in the GOP of the House of Representatives have made it clear for weeks that they would try to remove McCarthy from power if he relied on the Democrats to pass a funding bill. With Gaetz's proposed impeachment motion, a single person can force the House to consider removing the speaker. Such an application has never been successful before.
In several appearances on Sunday broadcasts, Gaetz accused McCarthy of lying during negotiations over the government's bridging funding and lying to the Republican conference in January during the protracted battle for the post of speaker, in which he went through 15 rounds of voting before being elected speaker.
"Look, the one thing they all have in common is that no one trusts Kevin McCarthy," Gaetz told CNN. "He lied to Biden, he lied to the conservatives in the House of Representatives. He got the authorizing officers to mark a completely different number."
McCarthy, Gaetz said, broke a promise he made to right-wing conservatives during the presidential race, namely that the chamber would pass individual bills instead of bundling them all together. Gaetz also said McCarthy had promised the conference 72 hours to read the bill and that the budget would return to pre-passage spending levels.
McCarthy and Republicans have passed four bills so far and plan to pass the remaining eight this month. While McCarthy didn't give his conference 72 hours to review and vote on the bridging bill, his leadership team has adhered to that rule in most of the legislation passed this year.
"There's almost no promise he hasn't broken," Gaetz said on ABC's "This Week" news channel.
On Sunday morning, McCarthy was defiant when asked about Gaetz's possible efforts to remove him from his seat.
"I'm going to survive it. That's a personal matter of Matt," he told CBS's "Face the Nation" news program. "If he's upset because he tried to push us into a shutdown and I made sure the government wasn't shut down, then let's fight that fight." Despite McCarthy's confidence, some Republicans have indicated in interviews last week that they are open to Gaetz's move.
Revolt among the Republicans? McCarthy in the sights of the rebels
On Saturday night, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a "continuation resolution" that maintains government funding until Nov. 17 and provides funding for disaster relief, the extension of a federal flood insurance program, and the re-approval of the Federal Aviation Administration, but does not include additional aid to Ukraine.
Gaetz was one of six Republicans who did not support McCarthy in his fight for the office of speaker of parliament at the beginning of the new legislative session in January. These six members eventually voted "present" on the 15th ballot, lowering the threshold required for McCarthy's victory.
However, these and other far-right Republicans have successfully blocked the efforts of the majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives who have sought to govern under the constitutional constraints of having to pass legislation with a Democratic-majority Senate and a Democratic president.
On Sunday, some of these far-right Republicans seemed to welcome Gaetz's approach. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, told Fox News that it was clear that McCarthy was in "trouble." Asked how he would vote on an impeachment motion, Donalds said, "I really need to think about that."
"There are a lot of trust issues in my chamber right now," he said.
Other Republicans who are critical of McCarthy's leadership walked out of the Capitol Saturday night, not wanting to say how they would vote if Gaetz introduced the motion, but indicated they had thought about it.
"I agree with my conscience," Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said in an interview. "I'm over it. We will lose our country."
Speaking to ABC News, Gaetz said he plans to submit his eviction petition over and over again.
"It may be that I don't get it the first time, but maybe I'll get it before the 15th.
Gaetz, however, said he had no replacement for McCarthy in mind.
Arch-conservative Republicans take action against leadership after shutdown deal
A majority of the GOP conference still supports McCarthy and would vote for him as their speaker. Rep. Jason T. Smith (R-Mo.) told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday that Gaetz would need more than 200 Democrats to join him to remove McCarthy "because more than 200 Republicans are 100 percent behind Speaker McCarthy."
And Rep. Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.), one of the weakest Republicans in the conference, told This Week that Gaetz's decision was a "diatribe with delusional thinking." Lawler noted that while Gaetz complains about how slow the House of Representatives is progressing in passing appropriation bills, the Florida Republican himself is one of the reasons the process has dragged on for so long.
"Do you know what Matt Gaetz is going to do by putting this motion to evict parliament on the table? He will delay the possibility of completing this work in the next 45 days," Lawler said. "And just like he and some of my colleagues have done over the past three weeks, they have delayed the process by voting against the rules, thereby violating our conference rules. They have delayed the process by refusing to reach an agreement within the conference."
Given the Republicans' narrow majority in the House of Representatives, Republicans will have to rely on the help of the Democrats if more than five hardliners vote to impeach McCarthy. But their help, if it is granted at all, would come at a high price.
Democrats in the House of Representatives are aware of their role in this scenario and are beginning to discuss how they would deal with a possible challenge to McCarthy's speakership, as their involvement — or lack — will determine whether he stays as Speaker of the House.
Several people familiar with the private conversations have said that no plan is final and that McCarthy's own last-minute struggle to force consideration of a clean short-term spending bill that averted a government shutdown has angered many Democrats.
Gaetz said he expects the Democrats to protect McCarthy.
"If Kevin McCarthy is still Speaker of the House of Representatives at this time next week, it's only because the Democrats bailed them out and he can be their Speaker, not mine," Gaetz said on "This Week."
The No. 2 member of the House Democratic Committee, Representative Katherine M. Clark (Massachusetts), told members in a statement Sunday that they were ready to remove McCarthy as speaker "at any time, including Monday." She did not specify a preference in terms of voting behavior, adding that "we will have a cross-party discussion on how best to handle the motion in the best interests of the American people."
Some moderate Democrats signaled that they could help McCarthy because they distrust Gaetz more.
"Every time we all work together, he loses his mind," Rep. Greg Landsman (D-Ohio) said in a statement. "He doesn't want the centre-left and centre-right to work together because he has to be the centre of attention. When we do that, he creates chaos to regain attention. Matt Gaetz has no interest in governing. It's all about TV appearances."
Trump-affiliated Republican wants to have McCarthy removed
However, there is little love for McCarthy, whom the Democrats loathe and consider untrustworthy. It would be an extremely high bar, coupled with concessions, for him to at least change the way he runs the House of Representatives.
"Before we save his ass, what do we get?" said one Democratic lawmaker. "We're not going to provide the votes just because we're nice people."
It is not the job of the Democrats to save the Republicans from themselves.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Representative of the Democratic Party
However, some Democrats welcomed the idea of helping Gaetz oust McCarthy. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of the most prominent progressives in the House of Representatives, said she would "absolutely" vote to remove McCarthy as speaker.
"I think Kevin McCarthy is a very weak spokesperson," she told CNN on Sunday. "He has clearly lost control of his faction . . . It's not the job of the Democrats to save the Republicans from themselves."
Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), chair of the New Democrat Coalition, a large caucus made up of pragmatic Democrats, said in an interview that "the deep distrust of McCarthy in the caucus, the legislative record of his conference, and the baseless impeachment are reasons why it would be difficult for any Democrat in the House to vote for him.
Separately, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — McCarthy's predecessor as Speaker of the House — said that Gaetz's action against McCarthy is "not about the budget, it's about a debate about values."
"You're wasting your time with this guy because he has no influence in the House of Representatives, except to appear on television and raise money on the Internet," Pelosi said on CNN on Sunday.
The leader of the minority in the House of Representatives, Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), has earned a significant amount of trust and goodwill from his fellow Democratic Party members, and he is unlikely to use this political capital to save McCarthy, several people familiar with the situation say.
Any demand that Jeffries makes of his party members to save McCarthy's spokesman post would have to be seen by the Democrats as a significant victory.
Among the demands in the room among the Democrats are the funding of the government at the level that McCarthy and President Biden had previously agreed to, the redistribution of the number of Democrats compared to the Republicans in the committees, and a more even percentage of ear tags in the grant bills; the Democrats say they received a significantly lower percentage of ear tags than the Republicans.
More drastic concessions could mean asking McCarthy to bypass the conservative hardliners in his conference and form a coalition government in which McCarthy governs with the center.
But few Democrats trust that McCarthy would keep his promises. And some Democrats fear that the chaos will be even greater if McCarthy is removed as speaker. They also fear that a potential replacement could be worse than McCarthy — or there might be no replacement at all.
"The Democrats have no intention of betraying their vote for impeachment to give Jeffries the best negotiating position," said one lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity to openly discuss the internal dynamics.
One idea that has been widely debated among Democrats is a "motion to postpone" the provision in question, which would prevent them from having to play a direct role in the vote for or against McCarthy as speaker.
Another possibility is for a group of institutionalist democrats to vote "present", which would lower the threshold of 218 votes required for majority voting. Such a move would allow Republicans to determine McCarthy's fate within their ranks.
Some Republicans expect several Democrats to vote "present" out of goodwill after McCarthy changed his weeks-long stance of pushing only conservative bills through his ranks and introduced the short-term funding bill that passed Saturday.
"He's being punished for getting a bipartisan bill off the ground to keep our government open," Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) said in an interview on Saturday. "So one should either believe that this activity should be rewarded or punished.
The Democrats say their support is not guaranteed, and McCarthy must formally ask his caucus for help. Even the moderate Democrats, who are most willing to cross the divide, say they would only vote for Parliament if McCarthy directly asked them for help and pledged to make Parliament more bipartisan.
If not, "they will vote him out," said a Democratic adviser familiar with the moderate mindset.
On Sunday, after his speech to pass the resolution, Biden dodged the question of whether the Democrats should save McCarthy if Gaetz files a motion to be voted out of office. The president said only that he hoped that "this experience was a personal revelation for the spokesman."
"I'm not sarcastic," he added.
McCarthy's final decision to stop appeasing the hardliners but to listen to a pragmatic group of Republicans who proposed renouncing the votes of their peers and instead relying on the Democrats to fund the government was seen by some Republicans and Democrats as a way for the House of Representatives to function in the future.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) warned his Republican colleagues not to lose sight of what they have been working towards. If McCarthy were to be ousted, it would cost valuable time to fund the government for the entire year.
"We can either start passing a one-issue bill on Monday and secure the border, or we can start the circus," Armstrong said Saturday.
About the authors
Marianna Sotomayor reports on the House of Representatives for the Washington Post, focusing primarily on the leadership of the Democrats and Republicans. Sotomayor joined The Post from NBC News in 2021.
Leigh Ann Caldwell is co-author of The Washington Post's Early 202 and focuses on Congress and politics. She is also an anchor on Washington Post Live and conducts newsworthy interviews. Prior to joining The Post in 2022, Caldwell was a correspondent for NBC News, most recently as a member of the Congressional Division.
Mariana Alfaro is a reporter for the Washington Post's political news team. Born in El Salvadoran, she has been working for the Post since 2019. Previously, Mariana interned at the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Insider and the Texas Tribune
. Laura Reiley and Patrick Marley contributed to this report.
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