House conservatives block GOP bills, voice frustration in response to last week’s debt ceiling vote

The passage of the debt ceiling bill was hailed by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other members of GOP leadership, but dozens of GOP lawmakers voted against the measure, saying it didn’t do enough to restrict spending

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2024 budget request of the Department of Defense, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 29, 2023.Jose Luis Magana (AP)

House conservatives staged a mini-revolt Tuesday in retaliation for Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership on last week’s vote to raise the debt ceiling, the right wing banding together to block progress on a mixture of bills and vent their frustration.

Led by outspoken members of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of 11 Republicans broke with their party on an otherwise routine procedural vote that threw the day’s schedule — and the rest of the week — into disarray. It’s the first such procedural rule vote to fail in nearly two decades.

The group is among some of the same conservative Republicans who tried to stop the debt ceiling bill from advancing last week and who then threatened to try to oust McCarthy after passage of the debt ceiling package that President Joe Biden signed into law. Short of taking that step, they have demanded a meeting a with McCarthy, leaving it unclear how the standoff will be resolved.

“We’re frustrated with the way this place is operating,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of the more outspoken members of the group. “We’re not going to live in the era of the imperial speaker anymore.”

At issue is not just a gas stove bill and others that are now indefinitely stalled as the conservatives wage their protest, but the political standing of the House Republican majority. McCarthy is working with just a four-seat majority, which gives a small bloc of lawmakers considerable power to gain concessions from him.

“We’re trying to resolve internal tensions within the House Republicans. And from time to time you have to have an airing within your family and I think that’s part of what happened today,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

Just hours earlier Republican leaders were extolling how the House Republicans had learned to work together as a team after the rocky start of the year and the spectacle of McCarthy’s protracted election to become speaker.

“In sports, it’s called a game plan,” said Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the top GOP vote-counter and a former hockey coach. “The debt limit last week displayed just how far House Republicans have come as a team.”

What led the conservatives to revolt Tuesday is not fully clear — they outlined a list of grievances over McCarthy’s leadership in handling the debt ceiling package. The House approved the package in an overwhelming bipartisan vote last week, despite objections from the conservatives, sending it to the Senate where it also passed with an overwhelming vote. Biden signed it into law on Saturday.

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said the group was now demanding that McCarthy meet with them to hash out an agreement for how the House would operate in the future.

“We had an agreement that had been forged by all of us together, and it was utterly jettisoned unilaterally by the speaker,” Bishop said. “And there’s been nothing so far to address the consequences of that.”

Asked if it’s about the debt ceiling, Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., said, “It’s about a lot of things.” Norman said the group is seeking “what we insisted in January: truthfulness, sincere cuts and putting economic security on the floor.”

It took McCarthy 14 failed votes in January to become speaker amid objections from the conservative flank — a spectacle unseen in modern times. He finally seized the gavel on the 15th try after making a number of concessions to the Freedom Caucus and other members.

One issue that has frustrated conservatives in particular is an upcoming vote to reverse a Biden administration firearms-related regulation on so-called pistol braces, a stabilizing feature championed by some members of the Freedom Caucus. Some conservatives said House GOP leaders delayed consideration of the bill after members voted against last week’s debt package.

Rep. Andrew Clyde, a member of the House Freedom Caucus and gun shop owner who backed the bill, met with McCarthy on Tuesday afternoon. He said they discussed his pistol brace bill and received an assurance it would get a vote on the House floor next week.

“I will hold them to this promise,” Clyde said in a tweet. “And I will never back down in the fight to defend our natural rights.”

The passage of the debt ceiling bill was hailed by McCarthy and other members of GOP leadership as a crucial first test of their new majority, as they pushed Biden to the negotiating table and forced spending restraints Republicans have long championed in return for lifting the nation’s debt limit.

But dozens of GOP lawmakers voted against the measure, saying it didn’t do enough to restrict spending.

Their dissatisfaction spilled over into votes Tuesday on the otherwise routine rules vote — a resolution establishing the rules for debate on various bills that are coming before the chamber.

It’s common for such procedural votes on rules to pass along party-line votes, but this time 11 members of the majority party joined with every Democratic member in voting against it.

The top Democrat on the Rules panel, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, said in a tweet that he had never lost a Rules vote when his party was in charge and he was the chairman.

Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., in a procedural step voted no, which would allow leaders to later bring the rule back up for a vote.

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