Infighting among House Republicans got worse on Tuesday, when five GOP rebels joined Democrats to block a defense spending bill from coming up for debate, in a major blow for Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
That came as McCarthy struggles to gain consensus within his party over a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown after October 31, and as Representative Matt Gaetz is threatening to hold repeated votes in a bit to remove the speaker from office.
McCarthy last week called for an impeachment inquiry into President joe Biden, following assertive pressure from conservative hardliners, who are now demanding a range of concessions on other issues. Speaking to Newsweek, a leading political scientist said the speaker is being “stretched to his limits by the right flank of his party.”
Tuesday’s procedural vote to advance the defense spending bill, typically a formality for the ruling party, was blocked when five Republicans joined Democrats to vote it down by 214 voted to 212.
Following the vote, McCarthy expressed his frustration to reporters, referencing the GOP rebels. He said: “Ask those five why they voted against it. Think about what they’re voting against. They’re voting against even bringing the bill up to have a discussion about it to vote on… the idea that you vote against a rule, to even bring it up, that makes no sense to me.”
McCarthy has also been struggling to unite his party around a continuing resolution that would extend government funding for a month in a bid to avoid a government shutdown.
Senior Republicans are proposing a deal that would see this granted in exchange for a spending cut of 8 percent for all departments, bar defense and veterans affairs, and the restoration of a border security bill passed last year. While this would almost certainly be rejected by the Democratic controlled Senate, McCarthy has thus far failed to get it through the House, with around 15 conservative holdouts demanding more aggressive spending cuts.
As McCarthy’s hold over the House appears to slip, so questions about his future as speaker are mounting. Gaetz, one of a handful of right-wing Republicans who tried to stop McCarthy’s election as speaker in January, is threatening to table votes to remove him unless he receives “immediate, total compliance.”
As part of the deal that saw some GOP hardliners eventually back McCarthy in January, the California Republican agreed to alter the rules so just one representative could table a motion to vacate the chair, removing him from position.
Addressing McCarthy last week Gaetz said: “Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role. The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate, total compliance or remove you pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair.
“So we’re either going to get compliance, or we’re going to start having votes on motions to vacate, and we’re gonna have them regularly. I don’t anticipate them passing immediately. But I think that, you know, if we have to begin every single day in Congress with the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate, so be it.”
Gaetz wants McCarthy to take a tougher line on impeaching Biden, including issuing subpoenas, to do more to balance the budget and to release footage from the January 6 2021 storming of Congress in full.
At a closed door GOP meeting on September 14, McCarthy reportedly lashed out at his Republican critics, commenting: “If you think you scare me because you want to file a motion to vacate, move the f****** motion.”
Speaking to Newsweek, Thomas Gift, founder and head of Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London, argued that McCarthy’s control over his divided party is fracturing.
“Since the day he earned the speaker’s gavel, Kevin McCarthy has been constantly doubling over backwards to keep his unruly caucus together,” he said. “The real surprise surrounding the imploding discipline among House Republicans isn’t that happening, but why it didn’t happen sooner.
“That McCarthy has been as successful as he has – both in keeping his job title and in inking past deals like averting a debt ceiling calamity – speaks to his political acumen. But there’s only so far a leader can bend without breaking. Increasingly, McCarthy looks like he’s being stretched to his limits by the right flank of his party.”
Newsweek has contacted McCarthy’s office for comment by telephone and email.