As the clock ticks toward a government shutdown, Republican Rep. Matt Gates approached a Democratic lawmaker on the House floor this week with a surprising pitch.
Gates, who has been a near-daily threat to Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s speakership, explained that his agitation was motivated by a desire to find new leadership that would keep their word, tell the truth and maintain regular order. “Totally fair.”
Gates then brought to mind veteran Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma and House GOP Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota as two alternative examples, and then tried to find out whether these members would support the effort to oust McCarthy. The Democrat told CNN that internal discussions are underway on a range of possibilities, from power-sharing agreements to policy ideas.
“In the last 48 hours, he’s not just talking to Democrats. “What I’m talking about is leaving the most progressive Democrats for the moderates,” the House Democrat told CNN. “He’s a salesman now.”
Asked about working with Democrats to oust McCarthy, Gates said: “The subject has come up, but it’s not my focus.” He also insisted that he was not trying to offer any favors to the Democrats in exchange for their help.
“I’m not giving the Democrats a chance, and I won’t,” he said.
But McCarthy’s critics aren’t the only ones who see House Democrats playing the speaker’s drama personally for their team. GOP moderates and incumbents are also working on a plan to build a consensus to save McCarthy if Democrats face a so-called “motion to vacate” the speaker’s chair, freeing them from a government shutdown. So urgent that a House GOP stopgap bill failed Friday at the hands of conservative hardliners.
“There are many of us … ready to take the next step that we need to take,” said GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who is working with bipartisan lawmakers to avoid leadership in the event of a deadlock in the House. A process called discharge petition.
This wheeling and dealing illustrates how Democrats are now caught in the crosshairs of the GOP’s ongoing civil war that has pushed Congress to the brink of a government shutdown. Democrats, who typically wield little power in the minority, now find themselves a constituency for the embattled Republican Party.
As Democrats gather their votes, they are beginning to weigh the price they ask for what will be a difficult decision: either save McCarthy or side with one of his main opponents to oust McCarthy and throw the House into disarray. However, Democrats have no choice but to contribute to McCarthy’s fate if a removal vote comes to the fore.
For their part, Democratic leaders are advising their members to avoid McCarthy’s bid for speakership, unwilling to preempt anything, knowing that a wrong move could have major consequences for the House and their party.
On Friday, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries was noncommittal about how he would handle a potential vote to remove McCarthy.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he told CNN.
Getz knew he would need more House Democrats behind him to succeed in removing McCarthy, which would require a chamber majority.
“Matt is trying to get us to feel because remember he needs every single Democrat to get McCarthy out,” another Democratic lawmaker told CNN.
Asked where most Democrats would come down on the issue, the member said: “My pulse is that it really could go either way.”
Those who want to see McCarthy leave argue that they don’t want to go down a chaotic path amid a government shutdown (which is one reason Gaetz wants to see the funding fight in the first place) and that an alternative candidate is needed. Come forward.
“What I told Matt was, we have to pass the shutdown. We have to get a CR. So time is of the essence,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN. No. So guys, we don’t know who you are going to nominate. So if you have someone who is very reasonable, it will help us.
Democratic sources say the goal is to get a unified position if their votes are needed to oust McCarthy as speaker or give him the vote to avoid his job. But under any circumstances, Democrats say they won’t offer their help without serious concessions in return.
There are disagreements within the caucus about whether it’s better to make a deal with McCarthy, a known firm, or an unknown prospect, and Republicans have yet to coalesce around one. The members, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity, stressed that the talks had not reached any serious decision-making stage.
“I think the leadership needs to put our troublemakers in line and tell them they can’t do something that hurts us Democrats,” said one Democratic legislator.
For many Democrats, the idea of saving McCarthy — by voting to table or voting on a measure to oust him — is unthinkable, meaning they may lean toward Getz. The speaker, they argue, violated their trust by opening an impeachment inquiry and going back on an agreement he made with the White House on spending levels.
“I’m not a cheap date,” said one Democrat when asked how they felt about the push and pull. “The deal is that McCarthy created this mess and McCarthy has to deal with it.”