(The Hill) — Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California vented his frustration about the hardline conservatives holding up appropriations, dropping an expletive as he dared his fiercest critics to attempt a vote to oust him.
During a closed-door conference meeting on Thursday, McCarthy addressed an uptick in threats from members to call a motion to vacate the chair — a move to force a vote on ousting the speaker.
“If you want to file a motion to vacate, then file the f‑‑‑ing motion,” McCarthy said, Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Florida recounted.
McCarthy’s comments follow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida earlier this week explicitly threatening to call a motion to vacate if McCarthy does not follow through with a number of spending priorities and votes on bills that his detractors were promised in January.
It also comes after hardline conservatives, who have been battling with GOP leadership for months over topline numbers in spending bills, forced GOP leaders to punt consideration of a Department of Defense appropriations bill on Wednesday.
“I showed frustration in here because I am frustrated,” McCarthy said after the meeting. “Frustrated with some people in the conference.”
“We had the DOD appropriations bill yesterday, couldn’t put it on the floor,” McCarthy said. “I don’t have one complaint by any member of what’s wrong with this bill.”
The battles are playing out against the backdrop of a potential government shutdown deadline of Sept. 30 if Congress cannot pass a stopgap government funding bill — which the House Freedom Caucus has also put demands on.
The House departs after Thursday for the weekend in observance of Rosh Hashanah.
“But when we come back, we’re not going to leave,” McCarthy said.
Gaetz fired back at McCarthy.
“Instead of emotionally cursing, maybe the speaker should just keep his word from January on balanced budgets, term limits and single-subject spending bills,” Gaetz told The Hill.
Earlier this week, McCarthy referenced his apparent belief that Gaetz wants him to intervene in an open House Ethics Committee investigation into the Florida congressman.
“He can threaten all he wants. I will not interject the speaker into the independent Ethics Committee to influence it anyway at all,” McCarthy told reporters.
The speaker is not the only member who is frustrated.
“We don’t try to air our laundry but again, you know, to that point, if somebody wants to file a motion to vacate, then file the f‑‑‑ing motion to vacate, and that’s it,” Mast told reporters following the Thursday morning meeting. “And stop holding up everybody’s work, stop holding it, you know, over people’s head like it’s, you know, like, it’s this noose that you’re going to try to get somebody to walk into.”
“Get to work with the conference; if you have a direction that you want to take, then step up in front of the microphone and voice what that direction is that you want to take,” Mast continued. “Otherwise, get the f‑‑‑ out of the way.”
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has become a close McCarthy ally and was ousted from the Freedom Caucus over the summer, echoed that sentiment, saying that conservatives making demands should raise them with the conference — calling out some of the hardliners for not attending the meeting.
“If we’re going to be able to do our job, we need every single member in our conference to show up and face everyone else, and then we can work out our differences and fund the government,” Greene said.
The group of conservatives who held up action on the Pentagon appropriations bill Thursday did so over demands that McCarthy present them with the topline figures for all 12 appropriations bills. The hard-liners have said they will not move forward with the government funding process until they review the numbers.
In addition, the Freedom Caucus is demanding policy conditions on any continuing resolution to fund the government past relating to the border
The hardliners’ stance as of Thursday morning, though, had not softened. The conservatives are insisting that their priorities have been laid out for months.
“We’ve been very clear, about since July, what we thought ought to come out of each of the bills in order to make the pre-pandemic spending,” Republican Rep. Keith Self of Texas said. “This is not a new issue. We’ve been working on it since July, and we’ve given them specifics.”
“Nothing’s changed from my standpoint,” Republican Rep. Bob Good of Virginia said. “We need to pass all 12 of our bills. We need to pass them implementing our priorities from a legislative standpoint, policy standpoint. And we also need to do them at the committed 2022 levels that we agreed to in January and that we all voted for in April, and send it to the Senate, and the Senate should then do its job and avoid a government shutdown.”
In response to a question about the Freedom Caucus requests, McCarthy said: “We have provided those things for the last three months.”
Following a rebellion over the summer from hardline conservatives fueled by anger about funding caps in a debt limit increase bill that McCarthy negotiated with President Joe Biden, the House GOP marked up spending bills at overall levels lower than those caps. But members of the Freedom Caucus and their allies want even lower numbers.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled Senate has passed spending bills at higher levels than the House — setting up what Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky last month called “a pretty big mess.”
McCarthy’s goal, he said, is to pass all 12 appropriations bills and then get into negotiations with the Senate about spending levels.
McCarthy also warned against a government shutdown, in response to some conservatives downplaying the consequences of one and arguing that Republicans could use it as leverage against Democrats in a spending fight.
“I don’t think it’s productive to have a government shutdown during that time,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know who wins and I don’t know how that — watching the shutdowns before — how is that productive to get the objectives that you want to achieve for the American public?”