WASHINGTON — Frustration boiled over in a closed-door House GOP meeting Thursday morning when Speaker Kevin McCarthy all but dared his detractors to file the "motion to vacate" the speaker's chair and try to remove him.
In the meeting, McCarthy told House Republicans, “If you want to file a motion to vacate, then file the f---ing motion,” according to two sources in the room who confirmed the comments to NBC News.
It was a nod to members including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and others who are threatening to force him out of the speakership if he doesn’t comply with their demands, like putting certain bills on the floor and not passing a stopgap bill to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month.
Under current House rules, any one member can force a vote to vacate the speaker's chair, and it would take a majority of the chamber to remove him. McCarthy oversees a narrow GOP majority, with only four defections to spare before needing Democratic help to pass legislation. If all Democrats voted to remove him, just a handful of rebels could oust McCarthy.
Later, McCarthy told reporters: “I showed frustration in here because I am frustrated with the [conference] — frustrated with some people in the conference.”
He cited the holdup over passing defense appropriations legislation, which was supposed to pass this week but has been stalled even though there are no specific GOP complaints about that bill. Lawmakers Thursday morning acknowledged that the entire appropriations process is held up because some of the conservative Republicans are issuing more demands before the rest of the appropriations process can proceed.
The tense meeting comes as a divided House Republican conference is on course to force a government shutdown starting Oct. 1, torn over whether to approve a short-term measure to keep the government running.
“Shutdowns are stupid,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a McCarthy ally and center-right lawmaker.
He added of the motion to vacate threats: “Kevin McCarthy does not let these things get underneath his skin.”
The root of the tension is aggressive demands by right-wing members who are insisting on spending cuts and policy add-ons to must-pass government funding legislation, which have no realistic chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate. They also say they won't accept a stopgap bill to buy more time.
McCarthy was forced to punt Wednesday on a House vote to advance a defense funding bill, facing demands from right-wing members to show them a plan to satisfy their wishes.
“At a bare minimum, we’ve got to address the border crisis. That’s a baseline,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said. “A lot of us are frustrated.”