By Moira Warburton and Richard Cowan WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s grip on power was in question on Tuesday as the House of Representatives, driven by Republican infighting, was holding a historic vote that could remove him from his job. If the rebellion by right-wing fellow Republicans against McCarthy is successful, it […]
US House holds historic vote that could oust McCarthy from leadership
By Moira Warburton and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s grip on power was in question on Tuesday as the House of Representatives, driven by Republican infighting, was holding a historic vote that could remove him from his job.
If the rebellion by right-wing fellow Republicans against McCarthy is successful, it would be the first time in U.S. history that House lawmakers voted their leader out. No clear successor has emerged.
McCarthy’s fate was uncertain after the House earlier rejected by a vote of 218-208 a motion that would have blocked the leadership challenge to him, brought by Representative Matt Gaetz, a far-right Republican from Florida.
Some 11 Republicans joined with the chamber’s Democrats to allow the challenge to go forward. “We’ll see what happens,” McCarthy, 58, told reporters before the vote.
Voting proceeded slowly as lawmakers were called individually by name. “Yeas” and “Nays” echoed through the otherwise silent chamber.
The speakership challenge was the latest moment of high drama in a year that has seen the Republican-controlled House bring Washington to the brink of default and the edge of a partial government shutdown.
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 voted against him.
In debate on the House floor, Gaetz and a handful of allies criticized McCarthy for relying on Democratic votes to pass temporary funding that headed off a partial government shutdown. They also said he had not pushed hard enough to cut spending.
“We need a speaker who will fight for something – anything – other than staying on as speaker,” said Republican Representative Bob Good.
McCarthy’s supporters, including some of the chamber’s most vocal conservatives, said he had successfully limited spending and advanced other conservative priorities even though Democrats control the White House and the Senate. They warned their gains would be at risk if they removed their leader.
“Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos, because that’s where we’re headed,” said Republican Representative Tom Cole.
Democrats said they would not help Republicans resolve their own problems. They 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.
“Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, who leads a group of progressive Democratic lawmakers.
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.
Some Republicans say they should focus on legislating, rather than infighting.
“This country does not need more drama,” said Republican Representative Steve Womack.
McCarthy supporters have said Gaetz was 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. Representative Garret Graves pointed out that he has been fundraising off his effort to oust McCarthy. “It’s disgusting,” he said.
Gaetz, who has denied wrongdoing and said he is not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.
“This isn’t a critique of the individual — it’s a critique of the job. The job hasn’t been done,” he said.
(Reporting by Makini Brice, David Morgan, Richard Cowan, Nandita Bose, Moira Warburton, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Alistair Bell and Howard Goller)