The vote begins: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy fights hardline threat to leadership

Washington DC - Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy faces ever-dwindling chances of political survival Tuesday after Democrats announced they would not bail him out of a move by hardliners within his own Republican party to oust him from the powerful post.

Kevin McCarthy faces ever-dwindling chances of political survival Tuesday as a vote on whether to keep him as House Speaker puts his powerful position on the line.
Kevin McCarthy faces ever-dwindling chances of political survival Tuesday as a vote on whether to keep him as House Speaker puts his powerful position on the line.  © CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

McCarthy sparked fury among the ultra-conservative wing of the Republicans at the weekend when he worked with Democrats to pass a stopgap funding measure to avert a government shutdown.

Leading the criticism is congressman Matt Gaetz, a longtime McCarthy antagonist who on Monday moved to topple the speaker with a "motion to vacate the chair" – forcing a vote scheduled for around 2 PM.

The move meant Democrats were faced with the choice of voting to rescue a speaker who has spent much of his term opposing their agenda and who supports scandal-embroiled Donald Trump and recently opened an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

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House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries ultimately encouraged Democrats to oust McCarthy, criticizing the right-wing lawmakers he refers to as "MAGA extremists" after Trump's "Make America Great Again" movement.

"Given their unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes on the pending Republican motion to vacate the chair," Jeffries said in a letter to colleagues.

The entire House of Representatives is allowed a say on McCarthy's future, and with the slim Republican majority, the speaker can only lose four lawmakers if all members are present and Democrats vote against him.

"I'm confident I'll hold on," a defiant McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill.

But Gaetz says he is certain he has at least five Republicans ready to vote in favor of ousting McCarthy – enough, as long as Democrats don't intervene with their own votes to rescue the speaker.

Lawmakers speak out on Kevin McCarthy situation

Congressman Matt Gaetz leads the criticism against McCarthy, launching a move on Monday to topple the speaker with a "motion to vacate the chair."
Congressman Matt Gaetz leads the criticism against McCarthy, launching a move on Monday to topple the speaker with a "motion to vacate the chair."  © Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/Getty Images via AFP

"I have enough Republicans where at this point next week, one of two things will happen: Kevin McCarthy won't be the speaker of the House, or he'll be the speaker of the House working at the pleasure of the Democrats," the Florida lawmaker said.

The tussle comes two days after the House and Senate passed a measure to avert a costly government shutdown – both with big bipartisan majorities – by extending federal funding through mid-November.

Conservatives were angered by what they saw as a flip-flop by McCarthy, who had promised an end to hastily prepared stopgap legislation agreed with the support of the opposite party, and a return to budgeting through the committee process.

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The fight on the House floor will begin with a preliminary vote designed to "table" Gaetz's motion, effectively strangling it at birth. Jeffries is asking Democrats to reject this move.

There is little support for the speaker across the aisle, and many liberal lawmakers have indicated that they would prefer to watch the Republican civil war from the sidelines rather than get involved.

McCarthy's allies say he is against cutting deals with Democrats and he would face another backlash in any case were he to accede to such demands.

In a rare show of support, several members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, a leading thorn in McCarthy's side, announced that they were against firing him.

"I have been profoundly disappointed in several elements of Speaker McCarthy's leadership, but now is not the time," said South Carolina's Ralph Norman.

Cover photo: CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

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