U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) confronts his critics head-on Tuesday with the historic challenge of ousting him from leadership and an unpredictable showdown in the House.
McCarthy’s fate is deeply uncertain as he faces a so-called “resignation request” from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who is allied with former President Donald Trump. All it would take is the support of a handful of Republicans from McCarthy’s slim majority to remove him as speaker.
Behind closed doors early Tuesday, McCarthy told his fellow Republicans, “Let’s move on.”
“If I counted the number of 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, posing his toughest challenge yet, a potential punishment sparked by his decision over the weekend to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown. So far, several Republicans have said they are prepared to oppose McCarthy, many of whom campaigned in January during his long battle for the gavel.
At the Capitol, both Republicans and Democrats met privately behind closed doors before the historic afternoon vote.
McCarthy emphasized that he did not ask Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries across the aisle for help with the votes to stay in office, nor did they ask for anything in return. Democrats “didn’t ask for anything,” McCarthy said on CNBC before the meeting. “I won’t provide anything.”
During the hour-long meeting in the Capitol basement, McCarthy invoked the last Republican speaker, Joseph Cannon, who confronted his critics head-on more than 100 years ago by calling their bluff and staked the vote itself on his downfall. Cannon survived this takedown attempt, which marked the first time to date that 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 speech and finally when he finished, according to a Republican at the meeting who granted anonymity to discuss.
At one point, there was a show of hands in support of McCarthy and it was “overwhelming,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-R-S.C., a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Gaetz was present but did not speak in the room.
Across the Capitol, Democrats gathered for a lengthy discussion and agreed on one common point: McCarthy couldn’t be trusted, several lawmakers in the room said. “I think it’s safe to say there’s not a lot of goodwill in this room for Kevin McCarthy,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. Nevertheless, the Democrats are sticking to their strategy and leaving the decision to Jeffries and his team. It continues, because the vote in the plenary session is about to begin.
Jeffries said afterward that Democrats were willing to work with Republicans, but he urged those on the other side of the aisle to “end the chaos, end the dysfunction, end the extremism.”
But privately, Jeffries told the caucus that Democrats should vote to oust McCarthy because he had proven himself untrustworthy, according to a Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting. Jeffries also urged Democrats to vote Tuesday against any procedural motion that would delay the attempt to oust McCarthy, the aide said.
“Ultimately, the country needs a speaker it can rely on,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Ca. “We don’t trust him. Your members don’t trust him. And you need a certain level of trust to be the speaker.”
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., said: “McCarthy got himself into this mess. It’s up to McCarthy to get himself out of it.”
“We are always the adults in the room,” said Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger. “McCarthy said he didn’t need our help,” she said. “He made his bed.”
The upcoming vote will likely include a motion to table the Gaetz proposal, meaning lawmakers would vote to set it aside for now.
McCarthy expressed confidence he would win this round but acknowledged it may not be the final word. Gaetz has indicated that he is not done fighting the Speaker yet and could try again as many times as he wants.
A key McCarthy ally, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., took to social media to call for support for “our speaker” and an end to the chaos that has rocked the Republican majority.
This week’s early vote comes as Republicans try to make progress on a key demand from Gaetz and others to advance the 12 annual spending bills and prevent another stopgap measure like the one passed by Congress last weekend just hours before the government shutdown has approved 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 that McCarthy has distanced himself from the debt deal he struck with President Joe Biden earlier this year that already set the level of federal spending, even as he encourages his right-wing party to push for drastic spending cuts.
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