Amid a government funding crisis that will likely lead to a shutdown this weekend, far right Republicans are reportedly considering ousting Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-California) in favor of leadership that is more agreeable to their demands.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus, which advocates for harsher immigration standards and cuts to social programs, are in the planning stages for removing McCarthy from his speakership role, The Washington Post reported, citing four sources with familiarity of their effort. It’s not clear when the plan will be implemented, but the sources have indicated that they will, at some point, try to push McCarthy out — and that it could happen as soon as next week.
The effort is reportedly being led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who has criticized McCarthy’s leadership at several junctures over the past few weeks and has said in public that he may soon seek to remove the Speaker from power.
The group is dissatisfied with the conservative Speaker’s refusal to take a hard right stance on a number of policy items. They also blame him for the current government funding impasse, saying that he wasted several months by refusing to negotiate with them on possible bills that include many of their demands for funding the government, including massive spending cuts; these demands would have no chance of passing the Senate and would be rejected by President Joe Biden.
Freedom Caucus members are perhaps mindful of the fact that one of their own couldn’t garner enough votes from the GOP conference — which only has a five-seat majority in the House — to become Speaker. But one name from current Republican leadership in the House has come up as a potential replacement for McCarthy — Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota), who serves as the party whip in the chamber.
Emmer is not a member of the Freedom Caucus, but would likely be more amenable to their demands than McCarthy. When pressed for comment on the potential ousting of McCarthy, Emmer said he had “zero interest in palace intrigue.”
“I fully support Speaker McCarthy. He knows that and I know that,” Emmer said in a statement to The Post.
The timing of the Freedom Caucus’s plans would put Congress in disarray during a particularly tumultuous time, as there will likely be a shutdown next week due to breakdowns in negotiations over government funding. Much of the issues in negotiating have been internal within the GOP conference, with some Republicans recently calling out their own members over the disagreements.
“This is stupidity, the idea that we’re going to shut the government down when we don’t control the Senate, we don’t control the White House,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-New York) said last week.
Lawler and at least one other Republican in the House have said they would support a bipartisan solution to reopen the government in the event of a shutdown. Just five Republicans would be needed to do so, though under parliamentary rules this could take weeks to accomplish.
It’s unclear how long a shutdown would take to be resolved, but adding a showdown over the speakership into the mix would invariably lengthen the process, particularly due to the strong likelihood that opposing factions within the GOP would be unable to agree on a name. It took 15 rounds of voting over several days in January for McCarthy himself to win the position, which he was only able to accomplish after agreeing to stipulations imposed by the Freedom Caucus.
Such a scenario would likely hurt Republicans politically. Recent polling indicates that Americans are split on who they’d blame for a potential shutdown, with a recent Economist/YouGov survey showing that 27 percent would fault Biden and Democrats in Congress, while 29 percent would blame Republicans. (Thirty-two percent would blame both parties equally). But if the standoff lasts a while, with GOP infighting prolonging the process, voters would likely shift blame toward Republicans — a precarious position to be in, one year out from the 2024 elections.
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