Brace for impact. Over the weekend, Congress averted a government shutdown when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did what he should have done from the beginning (and in truth, was always going to have to do): pass a clean stopgap spending bill with Democrats to make up the difference when many members of the Republican conference opposed it.
Unsurprisingly, the day after, Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told CNN that he would file a motion to boot Mr McCarthy from his role as House speaker. For those who forget, when Mr McCarthy when 15 rounds with conservatives to become speaker in January, he cut a deal with conservatives that allowed for a single member to file a motion to vacate the chair, essentially a no-confidence vote in the speaker.
Mr Gaetz, Mr McCarthy’s perpetual antagonist who led the charge against Mr McCarthy becoming speaker, has long threatened to file a motion to oust him.
But he would likely have few allies within the House GOP conference, given how much he dragged out the fight on spending which led to the passage of a bill with no provisions to cut immigration. Even some Republicans who might agree with him – indeed, 90 Republicans voted against keeping the government open – would probably tell him to take a hike.
But then, Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a member of Congress who has about as little in common with Mr Gaetz as possible, also told CNN she “absolutely” would vote to oust Mr McCarthy, calling him a “very weak speaker” who had “lost control of his caucus.”
Ms Ocasio-Cortez announcing such a move would be surprising given that, unlike other progressives, she’s much more comfortable playing the inside game. But then Rep Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a fellow member of the Squad and the deputy chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told MSNBC that she “can't wait to vote to vacate” the chair.
Both members are considered leaders of the CPC and well-respected among progressives, which means they likely would not get ahead of a not-insigificant number of the 100-plus caucus caucus was not already thinking about joining Mr Gaetz.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Ms Omar’s reasons for wanting to get rid of Mr McCarthy are pretty obvious. Last Congress, when Rep Paul Gosar posted a cartoon of a character with his head photoshopped on killing a character with Ms Ocasio Cortez’s head, Mr McCarthy offered a vociferous defence of the fringe Republican congressman.
Indeed, when Democrats voted to censure him and strip him of committees, Mr McCarthy threatened to remove Ms Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee for her previous comments on Israel, which he did shortly after Republicans took control of the House.
Mr McCarthy also refused to discipline Rep Lauren Boebert (R-CO) after she joked about Ms Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, being a terrorist. That led to Ms Omar receiving numerous death threats but zero discipline from House GOP leadership.
Similarly, as the no 2 Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Ms Ocasio-Cortez has led the Democratic pushback to the wild goose chase that is the Biden impeachment inquiry. Incidentally, she had one of the most incisive questions when she asked witnesses last week if they had any firsthand evidence of wrongdoing by President Joe Biden, to which they all replied no.
The progressive desire to oust Mr McCarthy, a quisling of Donald Trump who has put himself at the mercy of the House Freedom Caucus, is palpable. And the desire to humiliate him at the hands of Mr Gaetz would make even the most cautious leftists lick their chops.
But in the end, an ouster of Mr McCarthy might do more long-term damage and give the far-right more credibility. For all of his pandering to the far-right, Mr McCarthy is an utterly malleable Republican. The next speaker, whether it be Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik or someone else, would be far more ideological and more friendly the extremist wing of the House GOP. The raucous crowd that opposed other spending bills might want to extract even more, making it harder for the speaker to work with a Democratic president and Senate.
Similarly, the House was only able to work to avoid a government shutdown because Mr McCarthy could trust Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to give him enough votes to pass a continuing resolution. This was also the case with the debt limit earlier this summer.
Were progressives to join in a coup with conservatives, it would disincentivize any prospective speaker from ever working with Democrats again since they would fear that a coterie of left-wingers would just join his right flank.