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Conservatives bring the House to a halt as anger at McCarthy's debt deal remains

A small group of right-wing rebels blocked legislation on the House floor for a second day, forcing leadership to cancel votes for the rest of the week.
Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., left, and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., during a House hearing on Oct. 21, 2021.
Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., called on members to "hold the floor" Wednesday.Sarah Silbiger / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — A small bloc of conservative bomb-throwers is holding the floor of the House of Representatives hostage, forcing GOP leaders to cancel votes for the rest of the week.

For the second straight day, the conservatives blocked several leadership-backed bills from moving forward Wednesday in protest of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s handling of the debt deal he struck with President Joe Biden.

The brazen revolt means this hard-right faction, made up mostly of House Freedom Caucus members, has ground legislating on the chamber floor to a halt, undermining the Republican majority and McCarthy’s power.

“House Leadership couldn’t Hold the Line. Now we Hold the Floor,” one of the ringleaders of the floor revolt, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a fierce critic of McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted Wednesday.

“HOLD THE FLOOR!” Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., replied to Gaetz in a tweet.

By Wednesday evening, after hours of talks with the hard-liners, McCarthy told reporters that no votes would be held for the rest of the week and that the House would come back into session Monday.

"We're going to have to make up our work next week," he said.

It is unclear what exactly conservatives are demanding of leadership.

“This is the difficulty: Some of these members, they don’t know what to ask for. There are numerous different things they’re frustrated about,” McCarthy told reporters. “So we’ll listen to them; we’ll solve this.”

On Tuesday, Gaetz, Boebert and nine other conservatives took the extremely rare step of bucking GOP leadership and teaming with Democrats to vote no on a procedural rule for a slew of GOP messaging bills. The rule failed on the floor — the first time that had happened since 2002 — in a major embarrassment for McCarthy’s leadership team.

Without a successful rule vote, none of the Republican bills can advance.

The conservatives said McCarthy’s debt deal with Biden did not cut enough spending, and they accused GOP leaders of retaliating against conservative Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., for having voted against the rule on the debt package last week.

GOP leaders had hoped to try again Wednesday afternoon to pass the rule governing a suite of bills, including two to protect gas stoves from federal bans. But shortly after noon, the House went into recess, a sign no agreement had been reached between Republican leadership and the far-right rebels who have managed to exploit the GOP's fragile 222-212 majority.

“There’s a lot of conversations but no resolution, so no point in keeping everybody here,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said as he left the Capitol on Wednesday evening, confirming that there would be no more votes for the rest of the week. “We’re going to keep working through this. … There’s still some issues we’ve got to work through within the conference.”

A conservative McCarthy ally, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., argued that the gang of 11 is needlessly holding up conservative legislation and could, instead, create a path for bipartisan bills to move through the House.

"The floor could keep moving, but the only thing that's got a chance of passing is moderate legislation," said Massie, whom McCarthy appointed to the influential Rules Committee. "Their tactic worked because it was a package of conservative bills that no Democrat would cross the aisle for."

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., lashed out at both leadership and the conservatives blocking bills on the floor. He said he had not received "a text or an email" from leadership for hours as he sought an explanation for what was happening with the schedule.

"So you've got the tail wagging the dog," Womack told reporters. "You've got a small group of people who are pissed off, that are keeping the House of Representatives from functioning today, and I think the American people are not going to take too kindly to that."

Moderate Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., described the conservative rebels this way: "It's the Dysfunction Caucus."