McCarthy faces deep Democratic mistrust with his gavel on the line

It only takes one member to force a vote on vacating the speakership, but winning that vote means winning a majority of those present and voting on the relevant motion — most likely, a motion to table, or effectively kill, the effort.

Typically, in matters involving the election of a speaker, you can expect the minority party to vote to install their own speaker (i.e., to dump McCarthy). That might not be the case here, and we’ll get into that in a moment. But at a minimum, Gaetz will need enough members to cover the margin of the GOP’s majority, which is five votes.

Most Republicans think Gaetz probably has those votes. Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) is openly backing the idea. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) told Olivia Beavers she’s “open-minded right now.” And Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) polled his followers on X about whether McCarthy should keep his job.

McCarthy allies are also closely watching GOP Reps. Dan Bishop
(N.C.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), and Matt Rosendale (Mont.). Some believe the group could snowball into the mid-20s, though most in leadership are skeptical that will happen.

What’s Gaetz’s plan to grow his posse?

Gaetz and his allies will argue that Republicans can’t count on McCarthy to draw a hard line in long-term spending negotiations with Democrats — which have now been punted to a pre-Thanksgiving deadline — because he proved over the weekend that he’s uncomfortable with shutdowns.

The Ukraine issue will also be crucial: Gaetz is claiming McCarthy cut a secret deal with Democrats this weekend, winning assistance in Saturday’s vote in return for promising to allow a future vote on billions of dollars of Ukraine aid. Such an agreement could potentially alienate a larger group of House Republicans, most of whom voted against Ukraine aid last week.

President Joe Biden himself appeared to give credence to the claim yesterday, though the White House won’t comment further and House Democratic aides said they weren’t party to any agreement. McCarthy’s office said only that the House will “ensure any request for further aid to Ukraine is matched with a sound strategy and accountability” and with provisions to address the southern border.

How is McCarthy responding?

So far, with bluster of his own. McCarthy insisted yesterday that he’s ready for a fight: “If [Gaetz is] upset because he tried to push us in a shutdown and I made sure government didn’t shut down, then let’s have that fight,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

McCarthy allies are marshaling forces inside and outside the Capitol, trying to isolate Gaetz and accuse him of working with Democrats to remove the speaker. “Matt Gaetz is a charlatan,” tweeted Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), in one example of a rank-and-file Republican lashing out. They’re also hoping to exploit cracks inside of the hard-right bloc, with plenty of members of the House Freedom Caucus — such as Rep. Debbie Lesko (Ariz.) — publicly expressing exasperation with Gaetz’s antics.

Conservative talk show host Mark Levin is also on a rampage against Gaetz — blaming his faction, not McCarthy, for the spending punt: “They rant and rave without a plan and without a real objective and now we get this 45 day CR. THEY did this.”

What are Democrats thinking?

Now for the big question driving the week: There’s plenty of speculation that Democrats might help step in and help save McCarthy’s gavel. But in conversation after conversation with Democrats yesterday, we heard nothing but scorn for McCarthy.

The party is still smarting that McCarthy refused their pleas to give Democrats a mere 90 minutes to read the CR text on Saturday. And they were downright disgusted to see McCarthy blame their party for the shutdown brinkmanship on “Face the Nation” yesterday, just hours after they put up votes to help him pass the CR.

“It was an astonishing show of bad faith,” one senior Democratic aide told us. “The dumbest political move I’ve seen in a long time,” one Democratic lawmaker agreed. “You need us, you f—king idiot!”

Beyond that, Democrats have massive trust issues with McCarthy — particularly after he reneged on the budget caps deal he struck with the White House: “He’s created this situation, entirely of his own making. where he doesn’t have the benefit of the doubt,” another top Democratic aide added.

So what do Democrats want?

Despite their fury at McCarthy, Democrats spent the weekend texting and calling each other to discuss how to handle the situation — and swapping wish lists of possible concessions they could extract.

Beyond demanding an end to Biden’s impeachment, some Democrats have floated reallocating committees to give Democrats more seats, giving Democrats equal representation on the House Rules Committee, not to mention Ukraine aid.

One Democratic lawmaker told us concessions would be aimed at sidelining the House’s hardcore MAGA faction and “stopping this cycle of absurdity” so the House can function in a bipartisan manner.

One thing that’s not negotiable: Forcing McCarthy to stick to the spending caps deal he inked with Biden in May. That, Dems say, isn’t a concession, it’s a given.

Can Democrats stick together?

Extracting any concessions will require Democrats to unify around a strategy, and it’s a major test for Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. McCarthy potentially needs only a couple of dozen Democrats voting present or simply not showing up to vote to save his skin.

Already House Democratic leaders are emphasizing the need to act in unison, with Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) telling her caucus that they will discuss the matter before any vote to oust McCarthy. The message of the “Dear Colleague” letter was clear: No freelancing.

How exactly will all this work?

There’s lots of rules surrounding the process for removing a speaker, but not a lot of precedent. The so-called “motion to vacate” (it’s actually a resolution filed with the House) has only been used once in American history — when then-Speaker Joseph Cannon (R-Ill.) survived a 1910 ouster bid.

But here are the basics: Gaetz, or another member, would file a resolution to vacate the speakership and call it up on the floor as a matter of privilege — thus starting a two-legislative-day clock before it must come up for a vote. At any point in that stretch, McCarthy allies could move to table it.

If the tabling effort or other procedural motions fail, the question would come up for debate and an eventual vote. Were it to succeed, the process of electing a new speaker would then begin from scratch, with McCarthy free to run again — and again and again — in a potential reprise of what happened in January.

And if the vote to oust McCarthy fails, there’s no guarantee the drama ends there. Gaetz is vowing to keep trying over and over, forcing the House to start each morning, he says, with “the prayer, the pledge and the motion to vacate.”

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