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Updated Jun 7, 2023, 10:02am EDT
politics

The House Freedom Caucus is protesting (but not removing) Kevin McCarthy

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
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The News

A splinter of the House Freedom Caucus tanked a marquee Republican bill to protect gas stoves Tuesday as retaliation against leadership’s handling of its debt limit deal.

Twelve Republicans voted with Democrats to block a combined rule meant to preview four separate bills, including two that would block future bans on gas stoves along with a budget bill and a separation of powers bill. (Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La. switched his vote to no so he could offer a motion for reconsideration which would enable him to bring the rule to the floor at a later time).

The dissension forced leadership to huddle with conservative holdouts on the House floor, but they remained unconvinced and ultimately voted down the rule — a feat that hasn’t been achieved since 2002, as C-SPAN noted. Leadership is expected to bring the rule and bill up again on Wednesday.

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“Today we took down the rule because we’re frustrated at the way this place is operating,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of the no votes, told reporters after leaving the chamber. “We took a stand in January to end the era of the imperial speakership.”

Rules Committee Chair Tom Cole, R-Okla. called his colleagues’ actions “disappointing,” adding that the dissenters “turned over control of the floor to Democrats.”

HFC members also claimed leadership refused to bring Rep. Andrew Clyde’s resolution to roll back a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives rule on pistol braces to the floor this week after promising to do so — presumably as payback for not supporting their approach to the debt limit. Within two hours, Clyde tweeted leadership “confirmed” the bill is coming to the floor next Tuesday.

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The rules fight Tuesday mirrored a similar procedural battle over the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 last week, which raised the debt limit. Conservative critics complained that McCarthy sold them out by settling for less ambitious spending cuts and policy changes than the debt ceiling bill they passed in April. With little support from their rightmost flank, Republicans had to rely on Democrats to help pass the rule in order to bring the legislation to the House floor.

“We’re concerned that the fundamental commitments that allowed Kevin McCarthy to assume the speakership have been violated as a consequence of the debt limit deal,” Gaetz said. “The answer for us is to reassert House conservatives as the appropriate coalition partner for our leadership, instead of them making common cause with Democrats.”

Meanwhile, Democrats wasted no time gloating about their own record. The lead Democrat on Rules, Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. tweeted “I never lost a Rule vote—just sayin’,” after the vote failed.

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Kadia’s view

Just a week ago, it was an open question whether the House Freedom Caucus would lead an effort to topple McCarthy’s speakership in response to the debt ceiling bill. A rules hiccup on a messaging vote seems like a pretty minor protest in comparison to a coup attempt over a bill whose failure would have jeopardized the global economy.

Still, it’s a sign that they’re looking for ways to reassert their power and remind the speaker that his five-seat majority is still in their hands. As part of their agreement to put him in power in January, he agreed to a rule that lets any one person bring an effective vote of no confidence. Even without invoking it, they can clearly make life difficult if they feel they’re not being heard.

“We will enforce the agreement that we reached in January under which Kevin McCarthy assumed the speakership,” Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C. told reporters. “It will be performed.”

Looking ahead, the vote could be a preview of what’s to come during soon-approaching fights over appropriations, defense, Ukraine aid, and potentially other bipartisan legislation, where hardline conservatives are expecting McCarthy to make good on his promises to give them an influential role in the process.

Asked whether conservatives might upend future votes, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. responded: “We’ll see.”

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Room for Disagreement

Liam Donovan, a Republican lobbyist, thinks the House Freedom Caucus may be overplaying its hand and alienating more moderate members. “It’s one thing to be a co-equal but integral part of the team,” he tweeted. “It’s another to push the conference beyond what consensus will bear and then lament that Dems necessarily pick up the slack.”

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Correction

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. as a member of the House Freedom Caucus.

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