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Far-right members, unhappy with debt deal, float threatening McCarthy's speakership

On a Monday night call, a member of the Freedom Caucus brought up using a rule that would force a vote to remove the speaker, two sources familiar with the call said.
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WASHINGTON — As criticism builds in Republican ranks over the debt ceiling deal struck by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and President Joe Biden, some hard-line conservatives have begun floating the idea of toppling the speaker.

On a House Freedom Caucus call Monday night, Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., floated using the motion to vacate, a rule that would allow any House member to force a vote to remove the speaker, two sources familiar with the call said. Buck, speaking toward the end of the call, referred to it as the “elephant in the room,” a source said.

After House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., suggested it might be too early for such a drastic threat, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., proposed using the threat to force McCarthy to allow members to amend the bill on the House floor, under an "open rule" that could stall the bill's passage. Perry responded that the issue would be discussed more when members return to Washington after the long weekend.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at the Capitol on May 28, 2023.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at the Capitol on Sunday.Anna Rose Layden / Getty Images

A lawmaker on the call who confirmed that Buck brought up using the motion to vacate said of the Biden-McCarthy deal, “Some people feel this is a complete miss,” adding, “I’d say there are five or more who would be sympathetic to Buck’s position.”

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Another lawmaker who was on the call but didn’t hear Buck's suggestion said bluntly, “The unity we had is gone.”

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press NOW" after he returned to Washington on Tuesday afternoon, Buck said that "yes," he had raised the question of whether Freedom Caucus members were considering a motion to vacate, but he said he wasn’t calling for McCarthy’s ouster.

“I was asking my colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus whether they were considering a motion to vacate as a result of a broken promise,” Buck said. “Scott Perry, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told me it’s premature: ‘Let’s get through this battle and decide if we want another battle.’”

Nearly a dozen Freedom Caucus members slammed the debt ceiling bill at a news conference Tuesday and vowed to vote no, but when they were asked how many of their members would support a motion to vacate, only Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., raised his hand.

Asked Tuesday afternoon whether he was worried about Bishop’s threatening a motion to oust him, McCarthy replied: “No. That’s his choice.”

While right-wing members have blasted the deal publicly — calling it "insanity" and a "turd-sandwich" and criticizing the scale of the cuts — lawmakers had held back from threatening to oust McCarthy over the agreement.

Over the weekend, many lawmakers dismissed using a motion to vacate when they were asked whether they would threaten McCarthy’s speakership over the debt bill, even as growing numbers say they intend to vote against it.

But as a former Republican White House official said over the weekend after the deal was announced: “McCarthy is now on a clock.”

A spokesperson for Buck declined to comment on the remarks but said he is looking to yield a solution to the debt ceiling “that doesn’t give Democrats a blank check.”

“We don’t comment on internal HFC discussions,” Buck spokesperson Joe Jackson said. “Congressman Buck is focused on finding a debt ceiling solution that doesn’t give Democrats a blank check to add trillions of dollars to the debt in the next two years.” 

Spokespeople for Perry and Gosar didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, warned at Tuesday’s news conference of a “reckoning” for Republican leaders “unless we stop this bill by tomorrow.”

“The Republican conference right now has been torn asunder,” Roy said, urging that "not one Republican" vote for the bill.

Asked how many members would support the motion to vacate, Perry said he was “focused on defeating this bill,” declining repeatedly to discuss the issue.

“What happens post that and the agreements that we have we will decide once we’ve determined the disposition of this bill and its finality,” Perry said.

After the news conference, Bishop, who called the vote “career-defining” for House Republicans, wouldn’t say whether he himself would file the motion to oust McCarthy but said: "It has to be done.

"I'm ready to go figure out how to fix this s--- sandwich. This can still be fixed, but the road gets narrower to fixing it every time," Bishop said. "And Kevin McCarthy's been sitting there in leadership."