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McCarthy sets up US House vote on challenge to his leadership

By David Morgan and Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Embattled U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday teed up a vote on a challenge to his leadership by a fellow Republican, in an intra-party dispute that could plunge Congress into chaos.

McCarthy said the House of Representatives will vote later in the day on a motion by Representative Matt Gaetz, a McCarthy antagonist, that could potentially remove him from his post.

If successful, it would be the first time in U.S. history that House lawmakers voted their leader out.

“I’m confident I’ll hold on,” McCarthy told reporters.

The House will likely take up Gaetz’s motion around 1:30 p.m. (1730 GMT). The chamber could hold a straight up or down vote, or could hold a vote to sideline it. If McCarthy hangs on to his job, Gaetz could potentially push for another vote.

The leadership fight comes just days after Republican infighting took Washington to the brink of a partial government shutdown.

Several Republicans said they were sticking with McCarthy as they emerged from a closed-door meeting in which they said he received multiple standing ovations.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there’s only one person prepared to lead our party. That’s understood by over 95% of the members,” said Republican Representative Darrell Issa.

Gaetz did not speak to reporters after the meeting.

McCarthy’s party controls the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, and it would take as few as five Republican defections to threaten his hold on power if all Democrats also vote against him.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries recommended that they vote to remove McCarthy from his post.

“Given their unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes,” he said in a letter to fellow Democrats.

Democrats broadly view McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke an agreement on spending with Democratic President Joe Biden, and are angered by his decision to green-light an impeachment investigation of the president.

Several said they would not vote to keep him in office.

“I believe Kevin McCarthy is a man unburdened by shame or principle,” Democratic Representative Gerry Connolly said.

There is also little inclination in the White House to help McCarthy, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

McCarthy said he did not expect Democratic support.

Gaetz and other far-right Republicans are angered that McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to pass a temporary funding extension on Saturday that headed off a partial government shutdown. A faction of about 20 Republicans, Gaetz included, had forced McCarthy’s hand by repeatedly blocking other legislation.

Gaetz was one of more than a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy’s bid for speaker in January. McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting.

Gaetz allies said they were upset that they were frustrated by the slow pace of spending legislation on McCarthy’s watch.

“We took a whole month of August off. I think that that’s pretty telling,” said Republican Representative Tim Burchett, who said he would vote to oust McCarthy.

But over the past few days, other Republicans have said he is motivated by a hunger for publicity, a chance to win higher office, or resentment over an ongoing ethics probe into possible sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.

“It seems very personal with Matt. It doesn’t look like he’s looking out for the country or the institution,” McCarthy said.

Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he is not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.

Other Republicans said they should focus on legislating, rather than infighting.

“This country does not need more drama,” said Republican Representative Steve Womack.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, David Morgan, Richard Cowan, Nandita Bose, Moira Warburton, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; editing by Andy Sullivan, Jonathan Oatis and Alistair Bell)


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