WASHINGTON ― Embattled House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will see the first test of his ability to hold on to the gavel Tuesday as the House turns to the intraparty fight to oust him.
McCarthy told Republicans in a closed-door meeting that he would bring up a no-confidence resolution from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in the afternoon.
Rather than a vote on the resolution to take McCarthy’s gavel away, however, lawmakers said they expected to vote on a motion to kill that resolution.
Since several Republicans have sided with Gaetz in his quest to topple the speaker, the majority of the conference that backs McCarthy will need support from several Democrats to protect him. Democrats have not indicated whether they’d bail McCarthy out; McCarthy, for his part, said Tuesday that he had not offered Democrats anything in exchange for their possible support.
If the “motion to table” the Gaetz resolution fails, McCarthy would face an up-or-down vote on the Gaetz resolution, and if that succeeds, he would no longer be speaker.
McCarthy told reporters after the meeting he was still confident in his prospects, but admitted that the math wasn’t in his favor.
“If five Republicans go with Democrats, then I’m out,” McCarthy said.
When a reporter said that outcome seemed likely, McCarthy said, “probably so.”
But if McCarthy gets ousted, nobody else automatically takes his place ― instead, the House would essentially be leaderless like it was in January before McCarthy won the job after 15 rounds of voting.
“If we vacate the chair, our government will shut down” when funding runs out in November, moderate Rep Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa) said. He called on Democrats to “do the right thing” and support McCarthy.
House Democrats were in no mood to save McCarthy, and it looked like they were prepared to vote as a bloc to help Gaetz and his allies.
“This is a serious, solemn and sober moment,” House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters after a long morning party meeting.
“House Democrats will continue to put people over politics and hopefully find some common ground with a reasonable set of Republicans who are committed to breaking from their extremist colleagues and doing the right thing by the American people,” he said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) was more blunt.
“My sense is there is broad agreement in the caucus about who Kevin McCarthy is and what he stands for,” he said.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said he thought Democrats would be “incredibly unified” on the votes. That suggests there’s little chance a significant group of Democrats would break off to support McCarthy and offset his loss of votes on the Republican side.
The Democrat meeting began with leaders showing a clip of McCarthy’s interview on a Sunday talk show where he implied Democrats opposed the 48-day stopgap funding bill to keep the government open. When they voted, Democrats provided the majority of the votes in its favor.
Asked if that hurt McCarthy’s case with Democrats, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) said, “Oh, you mean when Speaker McCarthy just, like, lied? Yeah, that doesn’t help.”
Connolly said he did not buy the argument that a different Republican speaker could be worse. “If Kevin McCarthy can’t get 217 in his own caucus, what makes anyone think a right-winger is going to get 217?” he asked.
Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), chair of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 100 moderate House Democrats, put out a statement Tuesday strongly hinting New Dems wouldn’t help McCarthy.
“You are only as good as your word — and time and again, Speaker McCarthy has proven that he is not a man of his word. He is simply not trustworthy,” Kuster said.
Several Republicans emerged from their meeting in the Capitol basement, saying McCarthy received standing ovations for his leadership and that Gaetz did not speak up. The vast majority of Republicans, they said, still back McCarthy.
Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) told reporters, “Matt Gaetz is using the American people as pawns in this narcissistic game of charades.”