Top Republican Kevin McCarthy, who averted a costly government shutdown on Saturday with a stopgap package that garnered more Democratic support than Republican support, could face a premature end to his term as speaker if party hardliners oust him.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 335-91 to approve a 45-day stopgap legislation just hours before federal agency funding was slated to expire. The same bill was eventually approved by the Democratic-led Senate with bipartisan support and forwarded to President Joe Biden for signature.
But soon after the House action, hardline Republican conservatives began targeting McCarthy’s role as speaker, claiming he had scored a victory for the “Uniparty” of Washington.
“Should he remain Speaker of the House?” Republican Representative Andy Biggs, a leading hardliner, asked on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
McCarthy decided to bring a vote on a measure that could win Democratic support, knowing full well that it could jeopardize his job. One of his advisers told Reuters the speaker believed some hardliners would try to oust him under any circumstances.
“Go ahead and try,” McCarthy said in comments directed at his opponents on Saturday. “You know what? If I have to risk my job for standing up for the American public, I will do that.”
The bipartisan measure succeeded a day after Biggs and 20 other hardliners blocked a Republican stopgap bill that contained sharp spending cuts and immigration and border restrictions, all of which hardliners favor.
The Republican bill’s failure ended that party’s hopes of moving a conservative measure and opened the door to the bipartisan measure that was backed by 209 House Democrats and 126 Republicans. Ninety Republicans opposed the stopgap.
Hardliners complained that the measure, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, left in place policies favored by Democrats including Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“Kevin McCarthy put a CR on the Floor that got 209 Democrat votes, since it kept in place the Biden-Pelosi-Schumer policies that are destroying the country and the spending levels that are bankrupting us,” hardline Representative Bob Good said on X.
Under an agreement McCarthy reached with hardliners to become speaker in January, just one lawmaker can set his potential ouster in motion by moving to “vacate the chair.”
Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who has openly threatened such action, made clear what it would take days before the Saturday vote.
“One thing I know. If Kevin McCarthy uses Democrat votes in the House of Representatives to advance Joe Biden’s spending priorities, he cannot remain as the Republican speaker,” the Florida Republican told the far-right channel Real America’s Voice on Wednesday.
It was not clear what action Democrats might take if a Republican moved to vacate the chair and the House voted on the measure.
Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick, who co-chairs the bipartisan Problem Solvers’ Caucus, said bipartisanship itself would be the real issue in any vote on McCarthy’s future.
“The motion to vacate will come … and the question will be: are we going to punish or reward leaders who put two-party solutions on the floor? That is squarely the question,” Fitzpatrick told reporters.
Some Democrats have suggested they could support McCarthy if an ouster attempt occurred at a turbulent time. Others have suggested they could back a moderate Republican willing to share the gavel with them and allow power-sharing within House committees. Others have shown no interest in helping any speaker candidate aside from House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries.
“That’s his problem,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said of McCarthy. “I vote for Hakeem Jeffries for speaker.”