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House Republican infighting turns raw during McCarthy floor debate

Allies of the ousted speaker clashed with Rep. Matt Gaetz and those who supported the move

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to the media on the House steps of the Capitol after his motion to vacate the office of the speaker was adopted Tuesday.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to the media on the House steps of the Capitol after his motion to vacate the office of the speaker was adopted Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The boos from fellow Republicans didn’t deter Rep. Matt Gaetz during a floor showdown Tuesday over the future of then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Neither did being denied the use of his own party’s side of the chamber.

And when a GOP colleague slammed his alleged fundraising efforts as “disgusting,” the Florida Republican simply doubled down, responding he wouldn’t take advice from people who “grovel and bend knee for the lobbyists.”

For more than an hour, the House floor debate laid bare Republican infighting about the direction of the conference, through unusually bitter and personal attacks before the historic vote that ousted McCarthy from his role.

Republicans traded resentful broadsides and knife-twisting arguments. McCarthy allies scorned disaffected GOP colleagues who led the revolt. Their target, at times more directly than others, was the face of that revolt now standing on the Democratic side of the chamber.

“To be clear, I tried to get one of the three podiums on the Republican side and y’all wouldn’t let me have them,” Gaetz said. “So you sent me over here.”

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., who led the chamber during the debate, stepped in multiple times with reminders about decorum. “Once again, the chair would admonish those speaking from the floor to direct their comments to the chair,” Womack said.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, another Arkansas Republican, said supporting the measure to oust McCarthy was “selfish, bad for conservative policies and bad for America.”

Gaetz snapped back. “There’s nothing selfish about wanting a speaker of the House who tells the truth,” he said.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., did not call out anti-McCarthy colleagues by name, but said the House had only gotten to this point because the incentive structure in the nation’s capital was “completely broken.”

“We no longer value loyalty, integrity, competence or collaboration. Instead, we have descended to a place where clicks, TV hits and the never-ending quest for the most mediocre taste of celebrity drives decisions and encourages juvenile behavior that is so far beneath this esteemed body,” Armstrong said.

Perhaps the most direct attack came from conservative Rep. Garret Graves, who implied the Florida Republican was fundraising off the push to oust McCarthy. That elicited calls of “shame” from other McCarthy allies.

“All of a sudden, my phone keeps sending text messages. Text messages saying ‘Hey, give me money,’” Graves said, a forehead vein becoming visible. “Oh, look at that. Oh look, ‘Give me money. I filed the motion to vacate.’ Using official actions, official actions to raise money. It’s disgusting. It’s what’s disgusting about Washington.”

Graves wasn’t done. “We’ve watched as these folks right here that have brought up this motion to vacate have refused to pay our military servicemembers,” he said.

Gaetz hit back. “I take no lecture on asking patriotic Americans to weigh in and contribute to this fight from those who would grovel and bend knee for the lobbyists and special interests who own our leadership,” Gaetz said to the Republican side of the aisle.

Yells then emerged from the Republican side of the chamber. “Boo all you want,” Gaetz said, stopping mid-sentence.

“I’ll be happy to fund my political operation through the work of hard-working Americans — 10 and 20 and 30 dollars at a time — and you all keep showing up at the lobbyist fundraisers and see how that goes for you.”

McCarthy sat at ease as his fate was announced vote by vote, seemingly unbothered as his speakership unraveled around him, one that had always been fragile with such a narrow majority.

He reserved his description of the eight Republicans who voted to oust him until a press conference after Tuesday’s vote, when he announced he would not fight to regain the post.

McCarthy had gone 15 rounds of votes before he wooed enough support to win the speaker post in January. Now he was taking off the gloves.

“They’re not conservatives,” McCarthy said, listing border security and other bills they voted against. “They don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry, and they’re chaotic.

“That’s not the party I belong to. The party of Reagan was, if you believed in your principles that you could govern in a conservative way,” McCarthy said. “They are not conservatives and they do not have the right to have the title.”

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