McCarthy won the debt ceiling fight, but will he lose speaker’s gavel?

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, speaks at his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, October 1st, 2020.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, speaks at his weekly press conference on Capitol Hill, Thursday, October 1st, 2020. (Graeme Jennings/The Washington Examiner)

McCarthy won the debt ceiling fight, but will he lose speaker’s gavel?

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The House voted in large numbers to raise the debt ceiling on Wednesday, marking a big win for Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in what has proved to be one of the most challenging leadership tests yet in his four-month tenure as speaker.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act passed in a 314-117 vote after weeks of grueling negotiations between the White House and Republicans, followed by a massive whip effort by McCarthy to get enough members on board to pass the bill through the lower chamber. However, the bill passed with mostly Democratic support — 165 votes compared to 149 Republicans — which has prompted some backlash from hard-line conservatives who say the deal is a loss for their party.

EVERY HOUSE MEMBER WHO VOTED AGAINST PASSING THE DEBT CEILING BILL

Several hard-line conservatives on the House Freedom Caucus came out against the bill in the days before its passage, calling on their GOP colleagues to strike it down. Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC), even went so far as to threaten a motion to vacate McCarthy from his leadership position if the bill passed.

“I think it’s got to be done,” Bishop said ahead of the vote when asked if Republicans would consider such a move. “I think it is a question of the time and place … of those people who have the courage to deal with this problem for the American people.”

Under House rules, it only takes one member to file a motion to vacate in order to bring the matter to the floor — meaning Bishop could do so himself if he feels inclined. It’s unclear whether Bishop will move forward on the motion, and his office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

No other House Republican has followed through with those threats, although one GOP aide told the Washington Examiner there are “definitely rumblings among HFC members” about a motion to vacate.

“I don’t see how the conference can trust McCarthy to lead on must-pass legislation after an embarrassment like this,” another senior GOP aide said. “He sold the conference ‘the biggest spending cut in history’ when he knew it was all smoke and mirrors. Those ‘cuts’ were so full of gimmicks and loopholes, it looked like Swiss cheese.”

Some members railed against the bill, arguing it caved to Democratic demands more than it preserved GOP priorities — leading some to question McCarthy’s loyalty to his own caucus.

“This just shows what the bill is really made of; it’s chock full of Democrat priorities — not Republican values or wins for the American people,” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), another HFC member, said ahead of the vote on Wednesday. “Democrats clearly knew that this debt ceiling deal greenlights infinite spending to advance their radical agenda, which is why they willingly helped drag the rule over the finish line.”

Clyde has not commented on whether he’d support a motion to vacate, telling the Washington Examiner earlier this week that Republicans were “not there yet.”

Other GOP members seemingly brushed off the idea of ousting McCarthy, noting it would be unlikely to get a majority vote in the House.

“It would take the majority of the House to actually vote it into place, and clearly, we would need Democrat support on that,” Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ), another HFC member, told the Washington Examiner. “So, why would Democrats help us out on that when Kevin’s putting forth legislation that they like even more than we do?”

“I think the speaker’s gonna have to lean in pretty heavily,” added Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-OK), who voted against the debt ceiling increase. “We’ve had a good three or four months here. I think everybody in our conferences enjoyed when the speaker was leaning into the conservatives.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) warned earlier this week that if the debt limit bill passed through the House without Republican support, which it fell just short of, it would likely result in an “immediate” motion to vacate. However, Gaetz has seemed to back off those threats in the hours following the vote.

“I’d rather direct Congress’s ire at Christopher Wray than Kevin McCarthy right now,” Gaetz said, referring to the FBI director who is currently in hot water after failing to comply with a congressional subpoena.

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Meanwhile, McCarthy has brushed off talk of a possible “no confidence” vote, expressing confidence in his leadership position.

“Everybody has the ability to do what they want,” he said on Wednesday. “But if you think I’m going to wake up in the morning and ever be worried about that? Doesn’t bother me.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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