WASHINGTON — The U.S. government stayed open Sunday, with funding assured through mid-November, but the political infighting among Republican lawmakers surrounding the votes to keep it operating only intensified.
Conservative Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida told news talk shows that he would try this week to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the narrow Republican majority in the House of Representatives. This comes after McCarthy, in a sharp turnaround Saturday, welcomed a near unanimous bloc of opposition Democratic lawmakers in voting to avert a partial government shutdown.
“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” Gaetz told CNN’s “State of the Union” show. Gaetz has accused McCarthy of reneging on pledges to hard-right lawmakers when McCarthy became speaker in January to cut government spending to 2020 pre-coronavirus pandemic levels and not pass key legislation with Democratic votes.
But McCarthy seemed unworried about Gaetz’s move against his speakership, telling CBS’s “Face the Nation” show, “I’ll survive. He’s more interested in securing TV interviews than in doing something. He wanted to push us into a shutdown,” a work stoppage McCarthy said would have delayed paychecks for military personnel living in Gaetz’s congressional district.
“Bring it on,” McCarthy said of the move to oust him. “Let’s get over with it.”
At the White House, Democratic President Joe Biden decried the turmoil among Republican lawmakers. He said they should honor the deal he cut months ago with McCarthy on an overall spending ceiling for the fiscal year that started Sunday, which conservative Republicans objected to and since have tried to trim further.
“I’m sick and tired of the brinksmanship,” Biden said. “I’ve never seen a Republican Congress — or any Congress act like this… Enough is enough is enough. I strongly urge my Republican friends in Congress not to wait. Stop the games. Get to work” to approve spending packages for the next 12 months.
Gaetz, a four-term House lawmaker, said of McCarthy on the ABC News “This Week” show, “There is almost no promise he hasn’t violated.”
McCarthy advanced Republican-sponsored measures with sharp spending cuts in recent days but all lost in House votes, often as the most hard-right lawmakers in the Republican caucus demanded even bigger reductions.
But with a partial government shutdown looming at midnight Saturday, McCarthy pushed through legislation acceptable to the majority of Republican lawmakers, if not the most conservative bloc.
“There has to be an adult in the room,” McCarthy said after the House vote. “I am going to govern with what is best for this country. I’m going to be a conservative who gets things done for the American public. Whatever that holds, so be it because I believe in not giving up on America. I’m not going to be beholden to somebody who portrays and does something different.”
The majority of the 221 Republicans in the 435-member House still support McCarthy as speaker, leaving Gaetz way short of a 218 majority to elect another leader of the chamber.
Representative Michael Lawler, a New York Republican, told ABC that Gaetz’s complaints against McCarthy were a “diatribe of delusional thinking.”
But there might be two dozen or more Republicans willing to side with Gaetz to try to oust McCarthy, a number predicated on those who voted against the speaker’s preferred spending plans in recent days. Six Republicans said they would not vote for any short-term funding measure, such as the one that eventually won congressional passage and was signed by President Joe Biden.
Whether the minority Democratic bloc of 212 lawmakers will vote with Gaetz to oust McCarthy or endorse his continued speakership is likely to be grist for widespread intrigue and deal-making this week.
Gaetz told CNN, “If at this time next week, Kevin McCarthy is still speaker of the House, it will be because the Democrats bailed him out and he can be their speaker, not mine.” Gaetz mentioned no names of some other Republican lawmaker he would prefer.
One Democratic lawmaker, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, told CNN, “It’s not up to Democrats to save Kevin McCarthy” and said she would “absolutely” vote to oust him.
She said that if Democrats do eventually vote to support McCarthy’s continued speakership, “We don’t give up something for free. It comes at a price.”
She said the Republican bloc in the House “is not a moderate party. There are just different degrees of fealty to [former President] Donald Trump,” who encouraged Republican lawmakers to allow a government shutdown to occur.
What Democrats might demand in exchange to support McCarthy was not clear, but some form of power sharing on committees in the narrowly divided House could be one goal. With their narrow edge in the chamber, Republicans now control the agenda on House panels.