Democrats Will Decide Kevin McCarthy’s Fate

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries arrive at the statue dedication and unveiling ceremony for author Willa Cather in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

For the first time in more than a century, the House is poised to vote this afternoon on whether to oust a speaker.

It’s historic, but it’s also hard to take completely seriously: Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who on Monday night introduced a resolution to remove McCarthy as speaker, openly admits it’s largely a messaging exercise. Among other grievances, Gaetz is angry about McCarthy’s deal with Democrats to fund the government through mid-November—and he wants to show that McCarthy will need to rely on the other party to hold onto power. Gaetz doesn’t have a replacement in mind, he says. And despite reporting to the contrary, he isn’t attempting to convince Democratic leaders to join his effort, he told The Dispatch. Those votes should come for free, he argued.

Rep. Tim Burchett, a Republican who says he’s leaning toward voting with Gaetz, sounded like a defeated man before the resolution had even been introduced. “The reality is they’ll kill it on the floor,” he told reporters Monday night. “I mean, it’s not going anywhere.”

Still, nobody really knows how this week will unfold. McCarthy is projecting confidence, but the House can sometimes turn into the Wild West in the middle of a vote, and the math isn’t on his side. He can lose only four Republican votes—a number Gaetz and his allies have already exceeded—if all Democrats are present and vote against him.

McCarthy says he won’t stand down: He won the job after 15 long rounds of voting in January, after all. Gaetz, who is touting the showdown in fundraising pitches, also says he won’t give up, suggesting he might not stop forcing votes on McCarthy’s speakership until something happens. That could be a shift in leadership, or it may ultimately be a simple rule change to make it harder for members to offer these kinds of motions.

Most House Republicans are firmly behind McCarthy, frustrated the chamber’s business has been derailed this week. Some have even anonymously told reporters they’d like to expel Gaetz from the chamber. (Pending the results of an ethics investigation into his conduct, of course, not at all because they think he’s annoying.) But for Republicans, the real salt in the wound is the fact that McCarthy’s fate is now up to Democrats.

Democrats could join Gaetz’s motion in an attempt to install a different speaker or use their leverage to try to extract concessions from McCarthy, something like more representation on committees or an explicit commitment to bring Ukraine aid to the House floor for a vote. Of course, any deal like that would risk McCarthy’s existing support among his Republican allies.

Democratic leaders might also decide it’s best to stay out of the chaos and let their members vote however they want. Democrats are meeting this morning to talk and had to check their cell phones at the door to prevent leaks and promote an open discussion. On Monday night, most Democrats who spoke with reporters said they were waiting to hear from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries about how the party should proceed. But several members questioned whether they can trust any deal Democrats might strike to keep McCarthy in power.

“If Kevin’s got something to say to us, we’re all ears,” Michigan Rep. Dan Kildee told The Dispatch. “The problem with all of this is can anyone trust anything Kevin McCarthy ever says? That’s one of the things we’re really struggling with.”

New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez complained that McCarthy lowered a previous threshold for forcing a vote on the speaker from a majority of either party to a single member, empowering Gaetz to do this in the first place. “He cannot be trusted,” she added of McCarthy. “He is a liar.”

Rep. Derek Kilmer put it more politely: “There are a lot of concerns about trust.”

Some Democrats, though, are concerned about what would happen if McCarthy were deposed. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t,” Virginia Rep. Don Beyer told The Dispatch.

But Beyer also recalled fantasizing with a handful of other Democratic lawmakers last week about what would happen if Jeffries nominated a different Republican for speaker after a successful effort to oust McCarthy—someone who commands respect on both sides of the chamber, like Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole.

A vote to table Gaetz’s resolution is expected Tuesday afternoon. If GOP leaders aren’t able to rally enough support to table it, the House would likely proceed to a period of debate on Gaetz’s measure, followed by a procedural vote to set up a final vote on the resolution. (It’s riveting, we know. Matt Glassman is a good Twitter follow today if you’re wanting to track process details on the House floor.)

Democrats hope to remain united. “If we freelance, I think we won’t get the best outcome,” said California Rep. Eric Swalwell.

Some of Gaetz’s friends are uncomfortable with the opening he’s given Democrats. 

“I think it’s bad to create a power vacuum in the Republican-controlled House while the Democrats control the Senate,” Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie told The Dispatch. “It puts them in the driver’s seat.”

If Democrats don’t bail McCarthy out, Massie said, “they’ll bail the next candidate out.”

“I think Matt’s conditions on a speaker are such that they can’t be satisfied without some kind of coalition power structure,” Massie said. “And that does concern me.”

On the Floor

If the speakership situation is resolved quickly this week, the House might debate spending bills dealing with energy and water, the legislative branch, and the Department of the Interior.

The Senate is considering judicial nominees, among other presidential appointments.

Key Hearings

  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is slated to testify before senators on Wednesday afternoon about the Biden administration’s implementation of the Chips and Science Act. Information and livestream here.
  • A Senate Foreign Relations panel will hold a hearing Wednesday afternoon on security in the Korean peninsula. Information and livestream here.
  • The Senate Budget Committee will meet Thursday morning for a hearing on the costs of a potential government shutdown. Information and livestream here.

In Baby News

Maternity leave was so restful and joyful! Baby Zoe is doing well, and she sleeps through the night like a champ. Big brother Lewis is obsessed with her and has been a total sweetheart.

Of Note

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Rep. Henry Cuellar carjacked in Navy Yard neighborhood

Congress stopped a shutdown, but fights on Ukraine, border intensify

A rural Michigan town is the latest battleground in the U.S.-China fight

U.S. senators to seek Xi Jinping meeting on China visit next week

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