McCarthy’s speakership could be on the line. Will Democrats help him keep it?


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U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.

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U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s grasp on his leadership role is, once again, looking precarious.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., made good on his long-standing threat to file a motion to vacate on Monday night, taking the first procedural step toward forcing a vote to remove McCarthy as speaker.

At issue, he said, is McCarthy’s refusal to adhere to promises he made to hard-line House Republicans earlier this year to win their support for the speakership in the first place — and McCarthy’s reliance on Democratic votes to narrowly avoid a government shutdown over the weekend.

McCarthy is accusing Gaetz of harboring a grudge over his refusal to quash a congressional ethics complaint against him over allegations of sexual misconduct and illegal drug use that emerged in 2021, telling CNBC on Tuesday morning that Gaetz has “personal things in his life that he has challenges with.”

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And McCarthy welcomed the challenge, describing it as “a fight worth having.”

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“Will I get removed because four or five Republicans joined with all the Democrats? That’s the question here,” he said. “If 98% of the conference wants you to be speaker, but you create a Congress where four people can determine if they work with the other side, how strong is the continuity of the government itself?”

Perhaps paradoxically, McCarthy’s speakership title could be in Democrats’ hands. And it’s expected to be the main topic of discussion at their weekly party meeting on Tuesday morning.

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House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., speaks at a news conference after the House passed a short-term funding bill on Saturday, joined by House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

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House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., speaks at a news conference after the House passed a short-term funding bill on Saturday, joined by House Minority Whip Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

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Gaetz told reporters on Monday that he believes he has the votes to remove McCarthy, though that’s not yet clear.

McCarthy still appears to have the support of the majority of the 221 House Republicans, and some even tried to convince Gaetz not to move forward with the vote, despite their own frustrations with McCarthy, as NPR has reported.

If a vote on a resolution to vacate is ultimately called — which isn’t a guarantee at this point — it would only require a simple majority of lawmakers present and voting to pass. And because Republicans hold only a slim four-seat majority in the House, the 212 Democrats could play a major role in either blocking or passing it.

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House Democrats have not officially taken a position. Some have suggested in recent days that they would be willing to help McCarthy — who directed an impeachment inquiry into President Biden just last month — but not without a cost.

Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, the House minority whip, told Morning Edition on Tuesday morning that she is not aware of McCarthy having offered any concessions.

She said McCarthy has “eroded any trust that he had going forward,” and that Democrats need to think carefully about whether they would even want to make a deal with him.

“We are going to have to see if and when Kevin McCarthy offers something, but it is hard to trust someone who had a negotiation with the president of the United States, signed a deal — 314 of us already voted on that in the bipartisan way — and he walked away,” she said, referring to the debt ceiling fight earlier this year.

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Clark noted that the GOP infighting — which she described as a “full-scale civil war” — has an impact on “people at home who are worried about the GOP’s attacks on Social Security, on our public schools, on the freedom of reproductive rights in this country.”

That’s what Democrats will keep in mind during their discussions on Tuesday, she added.

“We are going to make that decision the way that we look at everything we do in the House: What is the best way to make progress for the American people?”