Kevin McCarthy’s ouster is only the beginning of a painful process in the House of Representatives, Eric Garcia reports
evin McCarthy’s speakership is finished. The battle for the House Republican conference – and indeed, the House of Representatives as a whole – has only just begun.
The historic effort to oust Mr McCarthy, led by Florida Republican Rep Matt Gaetz, culminated on Tuesday with Mr McCarthy losing his position. Eight Republicans, including Mr Gaetz, joined every member of the House Democratic caucus to depose the speaker, whose reign lasted barely less than nine months.
It could not have come at a more inopportune time. Over the weekend, Congress passed a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, to keep the government open for 48 days. In addition, Congress is currently debating whether to continue spending money to support Ukraine in its attempt to push back Russian aggression.
What are the roots of the current GOP civil war?
Much of the current fight has little to do with either Mr McCarthy or Mr Gaetz, but rather, goes back to 2010. Republicans gained control of the House on the back of the Tea Party wave that was a response to Barack Obama’s presidency. Back then, many new conservative freshmen felt that House Republican leadership had not done enough to rein in government spending. Over time, this new breed of conservative Republicans shut down the government in 2013 in an attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act, Mr Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
In 2015, Mark Meadows, then a congressman from North Carolina, filed a motion to vacate the chair, which would trigger a no-confidence vote in then-House Speaker John Boehner. A vote never happened, but the motion prompted Mr Boehner to resign. At the time, Mr McCarthy, then House majority leader, attempted to succeed Mr Boehner but ultimately failed.
What rules led to McCarthy being vacated?
Last year, Republicans once again won the House of Representatives, but only with a nine-seat majority in the body of 435 members. That meant that Mr McCarthy could only afford to lose four votes in a vote for speaker. Mr Gaetz and a small but vocal coterie of conservative Republicans known as the House Freedom Caucus largely led the charge to oppose Mr McCarthy’s bid to become speaker.
To appease them, Mr McCarthy made a series of concessions, namely allowing a single member to file a motion to vacate the chair. After a marathon 15 rounds of voting, Mr McCarthy earned the gavel.
What is the current situation with government spending and how did it trigger McCarthy’s downfall?
Earlier this year, Mr McCarthy hoped to use lifting the debt limit, which would allow the United States to continue paying bills for debt it has already incurred and not default, as leverage to extract spending cuts from the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled US Senate. Mr McCarthy dispatched Rep Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Garret Graves (R-LA) to negotiate with the White House and in late May, the group reached an agreement.
House conservatives raged about the vote, with Rep Chip Roy (R-TX), a member of the Freedom Caucus, threatening that “there’s going to be a reckoning about what just occurred,” claiming that the negotiators allowed for the Biden administration to not make significant cuts. The agreement passed 314 to 117, but 71 Republicans opposed the agreement, while 165 Democrats helped push it over the finish line.
In turn, Republicans began negotiating the terms of passing the 12 spending bills required to keep the government open. Conservative Republicans opposed passing a continuing resolution, which they saw as a means of maintaining the status quo of spending, and wanted to include provisions to significantly curb immigration and prevent providing more support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.
After initially trying to pass spending bills that had little likelihood of passing and a rule to pass a defence spending bill failing twice, House Republican leadership attempted last Friday to pass a continuing resolution with numerous conservative priorities to keep the government open while they continued to pass spending bills.
When that spending bill failed, Mr McCarthy agreed to put a “clean” continuing resolution to the floor on Saturday that also included no funding for Ukraine. All but one Democrat voted against the provision but 90 Republicans opposed it, criticising Mr McCarthy for putting a continuing resolution to the floor.
Why did Democrats join Matt Gaetz? Will they regret it?
Almost immediately after the vote, Mr Gaetz pledged to file a motion to vacate the chair, after previously saying that if Mr McCarthy had put forward a “clean” continuing resolution, it would be “shot-chaser” in filing a motion. Shortly thereafter, Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a member of the progressive coterie known as the Squad, told CNN she would “absolutely” vote to boot Mr McCarthy. On Monday, when asked whether she worried about empowering Mr Gaetz, a longtime political opponent and ally of former president Donald Trump, she did not seem deterred.
“I think our priorities are Democratic priorities and we just assess the conditions of the moment,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez told The Independent. “It’s really not about any one individual, it’s about the decision we make as a team to really do as much as we can to deliver for people.”
Even more moderate Democrats like Brittany Pettersen of Colorado, a freshman member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told The Independent that she’d defer to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
“I think they have to figure this out and Hakeem Jeffries is going to have to figure out if there’s a deal to be made,” she said.
Ultimately, all 208 Democrats present on Tuesday joined eight Republicans on the motion to vacate. The absence has led to Rep Patrick McHenry (R-NC) to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore. CNN reported that Rep Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Judiciary Chairman, is actively seeking the speakership. Others have floated House Majority Leader Steve Scalise or House Majority Whip Tom Emmer. Others like Rep Troy Nehls (R-TX), have floated the idea of nominating former president Donald Trump as speaker.
What are the ramifications for Ukraine?
Many Republicans – including allies of Mr McCarthy such as Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) – have vocally criticised money to support Ukraine. During his speech to begin the process to vacate the chair, Mr Gaetz asked Mr McCarthy what was in the “secret Ukraine side deal” that he reportedly made with President Joe Biden during spending negotiations. The lack of funding for Ukraine in the continuing resolution has worried many, including Republicans in the Senate.
Last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Capitol Hill, but many Republicans criticised support for Ukraine.
But Democrats and Republicans expressed concern about the lack of Ukraine funding on Saturday as they voted for the continuing resolution.
“They’re willing to let all their demands go except for their demand to jettison Ukraine funding,” Sen Chris Murphy (D-CT) told The Independent.
This would likely mean that a supplemental bill would need to pass to aid Ukraine. But any future speaker would likely have to contest with the fact many Republicans oppose doing so and might have to pledge not to put it to a vote.
What about the spending bills?
Whoever will take up the speaker’s gavel will likely have to fulfill Mr McCarthy’s pledge to pass single-issue spending bills. But with a little more than a month to go, it means that the House will have to pass 12 individual spending bills in that period of time.
Last week, the House passed three bills to fund the government but a bill to fund the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration failed to pass after some Republicans voted against it.
On top of that, many of these bills are loaded up with conservative priorities that many in the Senate would roundly reject. That would mean the bills would need to go to conference where the chairperson and ranking member of the House and Senate appropriations committee create compromise legislation.
Previously, Moody’s warned that a government shutdown could hurt the US credit rating, Reuters reported. If the House still goes to a shutdown, it could cause a downgrade.