Receive free Kevin McCarthy updates
The US Congress was poised for more turmoil on Tuesday, as the House of Representatives moved towards a vote on whether to dismiss its speaker, Kevin McCarthy, exposing the deepening splits in the Republican party and polarisation in Washington.
McCarthy, a Republican, announced the House would hold the vote on his future in response to a challenge from his own party’s hardline rightwing, which was angered after the speaker struck a deal with Democrats to avert a government shutdown over the weekend.
Matt Gaetz, the firebrand Republican congressman from Florida, moved to oust McCarthy late on Monday, introducing a resolution “declaring the office of Speaker of the House of the Representatives to be vacant”. It was only the third time in US history that a lawmaker has tried to oust a speaker using the procedural tool known as a motion to vacate.
The threat to McCarthy’s speakership is the latest sign of deepening divisions in Congress, where hardline Republican House members last week took the US government to the brink of shutdown in an attempt to cut federal spending, including aid for Ukraine’s war effort.
McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday morning that he would bring up the motion that afternoon, setting the stage for a high-stakes showdown. If enough Republicans back Gaetz’s effort to unseat the speaker, McCarthy could be forced to rely on Democratic votes to retain power.
McCarthy, who was elected speaker on the 15th round of voting in January of this year, remained optimistic after a closed-door meeting with Republican House members.
“If I counted how many times somebody wanted to knock me out, I would have been gone a long time ago,” the California Republican said.
But McCarthy is facing an uphill battle given Republicans control the lower chamber of Congress by a razor-thin margin. He can only afford to lose a handful of Republican votes if he is going to keep the Speaker’s gavel — unless a critical number of Democrats come to his defence.
It remained unclear whether any Democrats would cross the aisle to bolster McCarthy’s numbers. Many Democrats have been publicly wary of helping a speaker who greenlighted an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden over his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
But other Democrats have been reluctant to hand a political victory to Gaetz, a controversial House Republican and staunch supporter of former president Donald Trump who has few allies on Capitol Hill.
Gaetz has long been a thorn in the side of McCarthy’s leadership. He was the speaker’s chief tormentor back in January, and has locked horns repeatedly with McCarthy in the months since.
The Florida congressman was among Republicans angered by McCarthy’s deal with Democrats over the weekend. The deal led to a bipartisan vote to keep the government funded at current funding levels until mid-November, when many Republicans had pushed for budget cuts.
McCarthy defended the deal, telling reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning: “Keeping government open, and paying our troops was the right decision. I stand by that decision. At the end of the day, if I have to lose my job over it, so be it.”
McCarthy has said Gaetz is carrying out a personal vendetta stemming from a congressional ethics investigation into allegations that the Florida congressman engaged in sex trafficking. The US Department of Justice ended its own investigation into Gaetz earlier this year without charging him. Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing.
“Matt Gaetz had planned to do this from the very beginning,” the speaker told CNBC on Tuesday morning. “He has got personal things in his life that he has challenges with, that’s fine.”
Source: Financial Times