House conservatives Tuesday blew up an effort by GOP leadership to advance several bills in a dramatic confrontation on the House floor, the result of a revolt against the debt limit deal cut by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Biden just days earlier.
Eleven Republicans — most of whom are members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus — joined Democrats in voting against a rule to advance four bills related to gas stoves and regulatory reform, enough opposition to tank the rule and block the legislation from advancing to the floor.
Just before the vote closed, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) changed his vote to oppose the rule as well, a move that allows him to bring up the rule for another vote at a later time. The rule was blocked by a final vote of 206-220.
The revolt made for a dramatic scene on the House floor, where Scalise huddled with more than a dozen conservatives in the back of the chamber in a tense effort to flip votes and allow the bills to advance to the floor.
The normally-routine rule vote — which was scheduled to be only five minutes — went on for more than 50.
The revolt was also a reality check for McCarthy, who has been taking a victory lap after Congress passed and Biden signed a bill to suspend the debt limit that was the product of negotiations between House Republicans and the White House.
“We’re frustrated at the way this place is operating,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) — one of the conservatives who voted against the rule — told reporters as the vote was still happening.
“We took a stand in January to end the era of the imperial Speakership, and we’re concerned that the fundamental commitments that allowed Kevin McCarthy to assume the Speakership have been violated as a consequence of the debt limit deal. And, you know, the answer for us is to reassert House conservatives as the appropriate coalition partner for our leadership, instead of them making common cause with Democrats,” he added.
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Republican Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Dan Bishop (N.C.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Tim Burchett (Tenn.), Eli Crane (Ariz.), Bob Good (Va.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.) and Chip Roy (Texas) joined Gaetz and Scalise in opposition.
Tuesday’s events could have far-ranging implications for GOP leaders in the weeks and months ahead, when they’re hoping to pass a number of their priorities through the House, including energy policy and tax reform. While Democrats had crossed the aisle to help McCarthy pass the rule governing the debt ceiling package, that vote was an anomaly, fueled by Biden’s endorsement of the package and the underlying urgency of preventing a default.
Democrats are certain to unanimously oppose rules in the future — particularly on partisan GOP bills — empowering just a handful of conservatives to block the entirety of the Republican agenda into the indefinite future. Some suggested they’re ready to do just that.
“What we plan to do is to be ready at all points in time, acting in good faith, to reforge the unity that was destroyed last week. And so what happens depends on what — leadership is inclined to reciprocate and proceed,” Bishop told reporters.
“Every single thing about this is about how are we going to proceed to move the priorities for the American people,” Roy said. “That is literally what the question is on the table. And whatever is gonna be brought forward next — is it gonna be tomorrow, later this week, next Monday, Tuesday — what rule is gonna be brought forward and who’s deciding? And we think that we ought to be doing it the way we were doing it for five months successfully, and we think we ought to restore that.”
“But it’s gonna take a lot to restore our faith that we can do that in light of what happened with the debt limit,” he added.
At the center of the clash was Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who has been embroiled in a back-and-forth with Scalise over the Georgia Republican’s legislation regarding a pistol stabilizing brace.
Clyde alleged that leadership threatened to block his bill from receiving a vote on the floor if he opposed the rule on the debt ceiling bill. On Tuesday morning, Scalise said he had a conversation with Clyde about problems the bill would face because of Republican opposition to the measure. He said, however, that GOP leadership was “working hard” to get the legislation passed.
Following that response, Clyde doubled down.
“Let me be unequivocally clear, I was threatened that if I voted against the closed rule to the debt ceiling agreement, it would be very difficult to bring my pistol stabilizing brace bill to the House floor vote a vote,” he said.
“Over the last few days, I have had several positive conversations with leadership about getting a vote on my bill next week, and it is my intention to hold them to that commitment,” he added.
While Clyde voted in favor of the rule Tuesday, other conservatives leaned on his clash with leadership to justify their dramatic protest. During Tuesday’s vote, Gaetz said he was “very aggrieved at the punishment that was delivered to” Clyde for his vote on the debt ceiling bill.
“We’re not gonna live in a system where our members are subject to this type of petty punishment, and we’re not gonna live in a system where our constituents are left abandoned by anyone here in the Congress,” he added. “And rendering that type of punishment is certainly — it’s debasing to the institution.”
It’s unclear, however, what the conservatives are demanding that would break their opposition.
The compromise bill infuriated the ideological fringes of both parties — a dynamic McCarthy has readily acknowledged — but the Speaker has also characterized that opposition as evidence of a successful deal in divided Washington.
“I think it only proves that the bill was right,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol on Monday night.
McCarthy has suggested the debt ceiling debate would be a template for the must-pass bipartisan bills to come, including legislation to fund the government and prevent a government shutdown. Tuesday’s revolt on the House floor, however, raises new questions about whether he can tap that strategy and keep his Speakership.
Updated at 3:53 p.m. EDT.