All eyes are on the House Freedom Caucus this week, and Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina by extension, after Speaker Kevin McCarthy made a successful last-minute bid Saturday afternoon to save the country from a government shutdown.
Members of the ultraconservative caucus say McCarthy’s actions Saturday betrayed promises he made to them in order to gain his leadership position.
On Monday night, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida and a member of the caucus, filed a motion that called for McCarthy’s removal as House speaker.
As lawmakers stake out their positions for a vote on Gaetz’s motion that could come as early as Tuesday, one of McCarthy’s closest allies leapt to his defense.
“We have a speaker who has performed well in the major battles for the year,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Lincoln County. “This motion doesn’t conform with his performance in his record as speaker.”
Until Saturday afternoon, the Freedom Caucus was using many of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the federal government as a bargaining chip against McCarthy in order to have him meet a list of their demands. McCarthy tried to meet them halfway by trying to pass a temporary government-funding measure with provisions to appease the most conservative members of his caucus, but that was voted down.
With just hours left before the government would be forced to shut down, McCarthy decided to run a bill that would extend government funding for 45 days and was clean enough to garner Democratic support.
The Republican speaker’s last-ditch effort to keep the government open passed the House 335-91 before going on to win approval from the Senate and President Joe Biden.
But in doing so McCarthy drew the ire of the House Freedom Caucus, something he anticipated.
“If somebody wants to make a motion against me, bring it,” McCarthy said during a news conference Saturday prior to the vote. “There has to be an adult in the room. I am going to govern with what’s best for this country.”
North Carolina’s objections
Bishop, a typically outspoken member of the Freedom Caucus, has stayed fairly quiet on the matter of who should be speaker now. But not about McCarthy’s bill.
“I would NEVER vote for a ‘clean’ CR (continuing resolution) to perpetuate the corruption of federal government spending and debt,” Bishop tweeted before the vote. “But this is even worse, as I will share. HARD NO. HELL NO. Catastrophic failure of leadership.”
He took issue with the timing — the bill had a timestamp from the night before but wasn’t presented until moments before it hit the House floor — and with the need for Democratic votes to pass the bill.
“Tells you everything you need to know,” Bishop tweeted.
Neither Bishop nor his staff responded to messages from McClatchy asking if he would support ousting McCarthy. He was on the House floor when Gaetz made his motion but could not be found following speeches.
The only other member of North Carolina’s delegation to vote against the resolution was Rep. Greg Murphy, a Republican from Greenville. His vote was an about-face from comments he made before the caucus in a private meeting Saturday urging his colleagues to avoid a shutdown, reported Chad Pegram of Fox News.
On Twitter, he wrote that he ultimately couldn’t support the bill because it contained too much spending.
“The greatest, invisible threat to our country is the unsustainable growth of our debt,” Murphy wrote in a statement on Twitter. “It is a silent killer that has us in a death grip. I previously voted to fund the government and secure the border, but at a lower expense level.”
Motion to vacate
By Sunday, Gaetz told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he planned to file a motion to vacate, a rarely used procedural vote that would oust McCarthy from his speakership.
From the House floor Monday morning, Gaetz told the speaker he might be able to save his job if he could explain an alleged deal between himself and Biden over funding Ukraine’s defense against Russia.
“Mr. Speaker, I would ask that these questions be answered soon because there may be votes coming today or later this week that could be implicated by the answers to these questions,” Gaetz said. “Members of the Republican Party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us about his secret side deal with Joe Biden on Ukraine.”
Support for McCarthy
By 2 p.m., Republicans began releasing statements supporting McCarthy.
McHenry, whose name was among those floated as a potential replacement for McCarthy despite being one of the speaker’s top allies, tweeted his support.
“Speaker McCarthy has delivered consistent, conservative leadership,” he wrote. “We need his steady hand to make good on our Commitment to America. We have more work to do to secure our border and rein in spending. Wasting time on a motion to vacate is a disservice to the American people.”
Asked about whether he would accept the speakership if offered, McHenry told McClatchy Monday evening that he was focused on ensuring that McCarthy has a successful speakership.
“That’s what I’m completely focused on the whole time,” McHenry said.
Rep. David Rouzer, a Republican from Wilmington, tweeted out that McCarthy deserved support.
“Only in a perverse world of the irrational would Speaker McCarthy be removed for the leadership he has provided in guiding a razor-thin majority to major conservative wins, including $2 trillion in spending cuts, passage of the strongest border security bill in a generation, the streamlining of energy infrastructure projects, and shining a light on corruption within our government,” Rouzer wrote.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from Banner Elk, told McCarthy in a tweet that she stands by him.
“With Speaker McCarthy at the helm, we’ve delivered historic wins for Americans since Day 1,” Foxx wrote. “A motion to vacate is asinine & a waste of valuable time. We have more work to do — none of which involves playing petty games while the clock ticks down.”
Lawmakers have until Nov. 17 to pass another government spending bill that would need to pass both the House and Senate and receive the president’s signature.