House Speaker Kevin McCarthy decided to keep the government open. But will he get to keep his job?
That’s the looming question as Congress returns to business following its weekend deal to evade a federal shutdown. On Sunday, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. announced that he would attempt to oust McCarthy this week by filing a motion to vacate, as he had previously promised to do if the speaker worked with Democrats to pass a clean temporary spending bill.
“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid, I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” Gaetz told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
McCarthy’s response? “Bring it on. Let’s get over with it and let’s start governing,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “If [Gaetz is] upset because he tried to push us into a shutdown and I made sure government didn’t have a shutdown, let’s have that fight.”
Nobody really knows how this showdown will play out, but it’s widely believed that McCarthy’s future will lay in the hands of the Democrats. GOP hardliners have told reporters that at least a dozen Republicans would currently vote the speaker out, enough to tank him.
And so far, Democrats are largely keeping their votes close to their chest. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, whose opinion could be decisive, hasn’t publicly signaled his position. And there’s talk that Democrats would want major concessions, such as a quick vote on Ukraine aid, in return for backing McCarthy, who has especially angered them recently by backing an impeachment inquiry. But some Democrats may also consider simply voting “present,” which would allow McCarthy to retain his job with a smaller number of Republican votes, in order to avoid further chaos.
At the same time, Gaetz appears to be trying to assemble an unusual bipartisan coalition to sink McCarthy’s speakership. He reportedly spoke to Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. about his efforts to fire McCarthy. “I told him in our caucus, in the Progressive Caucus, we’re not planning to save McCarthy,” Jayapal told POLITICO.
On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she would “absolutely” vote in favor of removing McCarthy as speaker and intimated the cost of any deal would be significant. She pointed to a 50/50 power-sharing agreement her colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. floated as one compromise that could get Democrats on board with saving McCarthy’s speakership.
“I think when it comes to power-sharing, we’ll discuss that as a caucus and what we would finally accept or not,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. “But again, it’s going to come with a price. You don’t just vote for a Republican speaker for nothing.”
Some moderate, pro-McCarthy Republicans are already fuming at the possibility that Democrats would choose not to back the speaker after he bucked his right-wing members by agreeing to a bipartisan spending patch.
“Let’s be clear; in order for @mattgaetz to remove @SpeakerMcCarthy, he would need the support of Democrats,” Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y. posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “He will never have a majority of Republicans supporting his efforts to undermine the conference and remove the Speaker. It’s a clear violation of our conference rules.”
The View From Thomas Massie
While it’s up in the air whether Democrats will bail out McCarthy, some veteran conservatives are already fretting that Gaetz’s move could backfire for their wing of the GOP.
As Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., posted on X: “I fear that attempting to vacate Speaker McCarthy at this juncture is a bad idea that will lead to worse outcomes for conservatives. signed, The only still-serving coauthor and cosponsor of the motion to vacate Speaker Boehner.”