WASHINGTON – Frustration boiled over in a closed session of House Republicans Thursday morning as Speaker Kevin McCarthy all but dared his critics to file a “motion to vacate” the speaker’s chair and attempt to remove him.
At the meeting, McCarthy told House Republicans: “If you’re going to file a motion to resign, file the damn motion,” according to two sources in the room who confirmed the comments to NBC News.
It was a reference to members, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and others who are threatening to oust him from the speakership if he doesn’t meet their demands, such as moving certain bills to the floor and a bill not to pass emergency solution law to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month.
Under current House rules, any member can force a vote to vacate the speaker’s chair, and it would require a majority of the chamber to remove him. McCarthy has a narrow GOP majority and has just four defectors left before he needs Democrats’ help in passing legislation. If all Democrats voted for his removal, only a handful of rebels could overthrow McCarthy.
McCarthy later told reporters: “I showed frustration here because I’m frustrated with this [conference] – frustrated with some people in the conference.”
He cited the delay in passing a defense spending bill that was supposed to be passed this week but has stalled, despite there being no specific complaints from Republicans about the bill. Lawmakers acknowledged Thursday morning that the entire appropriations process is being delayed because some conservative Republicans are making additional demands before the rest of the appropriations process can proceed.
The tense session comes as a divided House Republican conference is on track to force a government shutdown starting Oct. 1 and is undecided about whether to agree to a short-term measure to keep the government running.
“Shutdowns are stupid,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a McCarthy ally and center-right lawmaker.
On the motion to withdraw the threats, he added: “Kevin McCarthy won’t let these things get under his skin.”
The reason for the tensions are the aggressive demands of right-wing lawmakers who insist on spending cuts and policy additions to pass imperative government funding bills that have no realistic chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate. They also say they wouldn’t accept a stopgap bill to buy more time.
McCarthy was forced to forego a House vote on Wednesday to advance a defense funding bill, facing demands from right-wing lawmakers to provide them with a plan to fulfill their wishes.
“At least we have to address the border crisis. That’s a baseline,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. “Many of us are frustrated.”