Updated Jun 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP hardliners tank vote to force McCarthy reckoning

Members of the House Freedom Caucus at a press conference in May. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

A group of right-wing House Republicans on Tuesday sabotaged a procedural vote teed up by GOP leadership in a bid for retribution over the debt ceiling bill that passed last week.

Why it matters: It signals a renewed willingness by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's detractors to break with norms to hold his feet to the fire.

  • Lawmakers traditionally stick with their parties on the "rule," which sets up a House floor vote to pass a bill, even if they oppose the underlying legislation.
  • The last time such a vote failed was 2002, a source told Axios.

Zoom in: Heated discussions took place on the floor between top Republicans and right-wingers, most notably House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), as the vote was unfolding.

  • Lawmakers and aides said the discussion focused on Clyde's allegation — denied by leadership — that leadership threatened not to give his pistol brace bill a vote over his opposition to the debt ceiling rule.

Driving the news: The vote to advance four bills, including a measure to prohibit the federal government from banning gas stoves, failed 206-220.

  • Nearly a dozen Republicans, mostly members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, voted with Democrats against advancing the bill.
  • None of the bills are controversial among Republicans.

The backdrop: The right has been up in arms after McCarthy shepherded an agreement with President Biden to raise the debt ceiling last week.

  • The debt ceiling bill passed with votes from 165 Democrats and 149 Republicans.
  • Many conservative Republicans, who said its spending cuts didn't go far enough, voted no.

What they're saying: "We took down the rule because we're frustrated at the way this place is operating," said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.).

He and others said they want promises from McCarthy to prioritize passing legislation with conservative votes rather than Democratic ones.

  • They also said the vote on Tuesday was retribution for strong-arming tactics leadership allegedly employed against Republicans who voted against the rule on the debt ceiling bill.
  • "I think that we will do whatever it takes to unify the Republican conference," said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). "Making sure Kevin abides by his word is what we're hoping for."
  • "I think leadership now understands it is a matter of some urgency," said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.).

What we're watching: The lawmakers signaled this is one of several tactics that could serve as alternatives to the motion to vacate – a procedural tool to force a vote on ousting McCarthy.

  • "It is one of the tools that ... the Republican Conference has available to it to make sure that we unify and move forward," Buck said of voting down rules.
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