In Congress, far-right leadership challenge to Kevin McCarthy begins

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Washington: US House of Representatives speaker Kevin McCarthy faced a direct threat to his leadership when hardline fellow Republican representative Matt Gaetz called for a vote to oust him, injecting an additional element of chaos into Congress.

Gaetz, who has clashed with McCarthy for months, said on Tuesday (AEDT) he was filing a “motion to vacate” that would force a vote to remove McCarthy as speaker, though he did not float an alternative leader name for the chamber.

Representative Matt Gaetz.Credit: AP

It is not clear whether he will succeed. Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, and it would take as few as five defections to threaten McCarthy’s hold on power, if all Democrats vote against him.

Gaetz and other far-right Republicans are angered that McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to pass a temporary funding extension at the weekend that headed off a partial government shutdown.

A faction of about 20 Republicans, Gaetz included, had forced McCarthy’s hand by repeatedly blocking other legislation.

McCarthy has called Gaetz’s leadership challenge disruptive and has said he expects he will survive.

Gaetz was one of more than a dozen far-right Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy’s bid for speaker in January. McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting.

As a condition of winning that January vote, McCarthy agreed to a rule change that allowed any one member to call for a vote to oust the speaker, setting the stage for Gaetz’s move.

No US House speaker has ever been removed from the position that puts the holder second in line in succession for the presidency after the vice president.

It is not clear whether Democrats will vote against McCarthy, as they did in January, or extract concessions to keep him in power.

They are angered that he abandoned a May spending agreement with Democratic President Joe Biden, as well as his approval of an impeachment inquiry into Biden. They are also upset that he gave them little time to read the stopgap spending bill before Saturday’s vote, even though he needed their support.

They could demand that McCarthy honour his spending deal with Biden, drop the impeachment inquiry, or hold votes on gun and immigration legislation.

Republican chaos in US Congress

House speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing a mutiny in Congress amid a battle to fund the US government. Under US law, the House of Representatives has to pass the budget that is then reconciled with the Senate and signed by the president. If the bill isn’t passed, the government runs out money. In the past 30 years this process has become increasingly politicised, primarily by Republicans. McCarthy turned to Democrats for the votes needed to pass a 45-day continuing resolution that would fund the government until November.

In doing so, McCarthy infuriated the extreme right-wing Republicans, such as Matt Gaetz who has now begun to seek a vote on changing the speaker. This precarious political arrangement underscores the deep divisions within the Republican Party which has shown itself open to extremism and populist tendencies. These divisions build on the long-standing stresses within the Republican Party.

The 45-day continuing resolution passed in September didn’t include funding for Ukraine. A number of Republicans in Congress have now backed away from support for Kyiv as it seeks to defend itself from Russia’s invasion. The opposition to aiding Ukraine puts more internationally minded politicians, such as President Joe Biden and allies, in a tough spot. They argue that there’s a moral and political case for backing Ukraine. 

Reuters with Chris Zappone

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