Simmering hostility between Republicans over the bipartisan deal that averted a government shutdown descended into open political warfare on Sunday, a rightwing congressman saying he would move to oust Kevin McCarthy and the embattled House speaker insisting he would survive.
“We need to rip off the Bandaid. We need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” the Florida representative Matt Gaetz told CNN’s State of the Union, saying he would file a “motion to vacate” in the next few days.
McCarthy, Gaetz said, lied about “a secret deal” struck with Democrats to later pass money for Ukraine that was left out of the compromise agreement, and misled Republicans about working with the opposition at all.
The bill keeping the government funded for 47 days passed the House on Saturday night 335-91, 209 Democrats joining 126 Republicans in support. It cleared the Senate 88-9 and was signed by Joe Biden.
In remarks at the White House on Sunday, Biden said the measure extending funding until 17 November, and including $16bn in disaster aid, prevented “a needless crisis”.
But, Biden said: “The truth is we shouldn’t be here in the first place. It’s time to end governing by crisis and keep your word when you give it in the Congress. I fully expect the speaker to keep his commitment to secure the passage of support needed to help Ukraine as they defend themselves against aggression.”
Asked if he expected McCarthy to stand up to extremists, Biden replied: “I hope this experience for the speaker has been one of personal revelation.”
McCarthy hit back at Gaetz, branding him a showman “more interested in securing TV interviews” than keeping government functioning.
“I’ll survive,” McCarthy told CBS’s Face the Nation. “You know, this is personal with Matt. He wanted to push us into a shutdown, even threatening his own district with all the military people there who would not be paid.
“… So be it. Bring it on. Let’s get it over with it, and let’s start governing. If he’s upset because he tried to push us into shutdown and I made sure the government didn’t shut down, then let’s have that fight.”
Gaetz said he would no longer hold to an agreement made in January to support McCarthy in exchange for concessions including a hard position on federal funding. That deal included a loosening of rules to allow a single member to file a motion to vacate, the beginning of the process to remove a speaker.
“The only way Kevin McCarthy is speaker of the House at the end of this coming week is if Democrats bail him out, and they probably will,” said Gaetz.
“I’m done owning Kevin McCarthy. We made a deal in January to allow him to assume the speakership and I’m not owning him any more because he doesn’t tell the truth. And so if Democrats want to own Kevin McCarthy by bailing him out I can’t stop them. But then he’ll be their speaker, not mine.”
McCarthy would need 218 votes to keep his job. Some senior Democrats said they would not vote to save him and would back the minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, instead.
“Kevin McCarthy is very weak speaker,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN, saying she would support Gaetz’s motion.
McCarthy “has clearly has lost control of his caucus. He has brought the US and millions of Americans to the brink, waiting until the final hour to keep the government open and even then only issuing a 4-day extension. We’re going to be right back in this place in November.”
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Jeffries said the deal represented a “total surrender by rightwing extremists”.
Republicans loyal to McCarthy also attacked Gaetz and the rightwing House Freedom Caucus for their “destructive” pledge to oust the speaker.
“What I just heard was a diatribe of delusional thinking,” Mike Lawler of New York told ABC’s This Week. “They are the reason we had to work together with House Democrats. That is not the fault of Kevin McCarthy, that’s the fault of Matt Gaetz. He’s mealy mouthed and, frankly, duplicitous.”
Relations between the speaker and Gaetz reached a new low with a testy confrontation in a meeting on Thursday. Gaetz accused McCarthy of orchestrating a social media campaign against him, the speaker saying he did not rate the congressman highly enough to do so.
On Sunday, Gaetz insisted “this is about keeping Kevin McCarthy to his word, it’s not about any personal animosity”.
Gaetz claimed McCarthy reached a “secret deal”, promising to introduce a standalone bill to continue funding Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russian invaders.
A growing number of Republicans object to the US helping pay for the war. Gaetz said: “However you think about [Ukraine funding], it should be subject to open review [and] analysis, and not backroom deals, so I have to file a motion to vacate against speaker McCarthy this week.”
On ABC, Gaetz said he did not expect to have enough votes to remove McCarthy immediately, “but I might have them before the 15th ballot”, an allusion to the time it took to elect the speaker in January.
“I am relentless, and I will continue to pursue this objective,” Gaetz said. “And if all the American people see is that it is a uni-party that governs them, always the Biden, McCarthy, Jeffries government that makes dispositive decisions on spending, then I am seeding the fields of future primary contests to get better Republicans in Washington.”
Shalanda Young, Biden’s budget director, blamed Republicans for bringing the government to the verge of a shutdown, and urged Congress to take a longer-term view.
“We need to start today to make sure that we do not have this brinkmanship, last-minute anxiousness of the American people,” she told ABC. “Let’s do our jobs to not have this happen again. Let’s have full-year funding bills at the end of these 47 days.”