House GOP devolves into round of angry retribution

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By Melanie Zanona and Manu Raju | CNN

As Kevin McCarthy was on the brink of losing his speakership, some of his allies delivered a not-so-veiled threat to GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina: If you vote to oust McCarthy, the party might not be willing to help raise money for your race.

The warning to Mace, which was described by a source familiar with the conversation, is a sign of just how seriously the speaker drama has rankled the Republican party, with money often used as a powerful carrot – or stick – in Washington.

Yet Mace, a Republican who could face a competitive race and will need a well-funded campaign war chest to win reelection, ultimately joined seven other GOP lawmakers and all Democrats to sink McCarthy. And it’s not the only repercussion she could now be facing for her career-defining moment of defiance: Sources told CNN that there’s discussion among members on the Republican Governance Group about voting to kick her out of the moderate-leaning group.

It’s just one of many examples of the fallout from Tuesday’s stunning vote to remove the sitting speaker, which has reverberated through both sides of the Capitol and left a bitterly divided GOP scrambling to pick up the pieces. Much of the furor is directed at Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, the ringleader of the McCarthy rebellion. But Republicans are also turning their fire on their Democratic colleagues as well, furious that they sided with Gaetz to throw the House into chaos and let McCarthy be punished for funding the government with their votes.

And it all comes as a GOP leadership scramble to succeed McCarthy has begun to take shape, even as rank-and-file Republicans warn the speaker candidates that there is ample work that must be done to repair the frayed relations within their badly divided conference.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican and close McCarthy ally, said there are a “lot of raw nerves” and that the next speaker candidates must make clear that they will “never” allow a single GOP member to oust a sitting speaker again.

“The next speaker better figure out how to negotiate with the exotics before you become speaker because you’re sure as hell gonna have to do it after you’re speaker,” Armstrong said.

“This isn’t a normal election,” he said of the speaker’s race. “And I think too many people are treating it like one.”

The high-stakes drama has not only sparked threats to remove GOP colleagues from the conference, but also put key bipartisan working relationships in jeopardy ahead of another looming government funding deadline and prompted serious internal conversations about overhauling the House rules, further complicating any speaker candidates’ bid to win the gavel. And, in the eyes of Democratic sources, it has even led to some real estate revenge: sources said former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer were unceremoniously booted from their Capitol office spaces at the behest of the McCarthy – all while the House remains paralyzed until it elects a new speaker.

“There was a meeting last night, as you may know, of Republicans and that room would have devolved into I think physical attacks on one another if people stayed in there for a long period of time,” said Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, a McCarthy ally. “People are mad … It is justified for them to be frustrated by what happened yesterday.”

‘Chaos caucus members’

Gaetz, who has long irritated colleagues and has been fundraising off his effort to take down McCarthy, is perhaps poised to take the most arrows from his colleagues. Sources said they wouldn’t be surprised to see the issue of whether to eject Gaetz from conference raised at their next official meeting, where someone could make a motion to do so.

Admittance into the Republican conference is a privilege, not a right. But to kick someone out, it would take a two-thirds majority to succeed.

“In my opinion, yes,” Rep. Mike Lawler, a freshman from New York, said of expelling Gaetz from the House GOP Conference, calling his conduct “disgraceful.”

Rep. Greg Murphy, a Republican from North Carolina, said he would wait until the House Ethics Committee concludes a probe into Gaetz’s conduct before making a decision on whether to back expelling him.

“I think it’s very sad that this is obviously politically personally motivated,” Murphy said of Gaetz’s push to oust McCarthy. “It was a personal animosity towards the speaker.”

Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, chairman of the Republican Governance Group, went even further, saying none of the eight McCarthy detractors deserve to be part of their conference.

“I don’t see how they can really be part of a conference when they come on the inside, listen to what is going on, and then going outside and lob bombs into the middle,” Joyce said on CNN’s “Inside Politics.” “It’s a waste of time having conversations with these people.”

Some members are also furious Gaetz and Mace have both been fundraising off their decision to topple McCarthy, which Graves argued “should be illegal.”

“I can tell you one thing about Mr. Gaetz, is that Mr. Gaetz is only doing this for himself and I believe that he should be looked at for an expulsion,” Ohio Republican Rep. Max Miller told CNN, though he added he hasn’t made up his mind yet about how he would vote.

Georgia Rep. Austin Scott added, “Those eight people are anarchists, and they’re chaos caucus members.”

And in another sign of how things have devolved, Sen. Markwayne Mullin – a former member of the House and a close ally of McCarthy – made rather x-rated accusations about Gaetz.

“He’d brag about how he would crush ED medicine and chase it with an energy drink so he could go all night,” the Oklahoma Republican told CNN.

In a statement shared with CNN, Gaetz said Mullin’s accusations have no merit.

“I don’t think Markwayne Mullin and I have said 20 words to each other on the House floor. This is a lie from someone who doesn’t know me and who is coping with the death of the political career of his friend Kevin. Thoughts and prayers,” Gaetz said.

Bipartisan relationships on thin ice

Republicans, particularly the moderates, are equally enraged with their Democratic colleagues, some of whom had initially signaled they would be willing to bail out McCarthy but wound up voting in unison with their rest of their party to oust the speaker.

Republicans on the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus are now considering quitting the group “en masse,” according to a Republican lawmaker, which could make the group obsolete. Republicans in the group will huddle as a unit next week to decide their next steps, the lawmaker said.

The group, which is equally made up of Republicans and Democrats, was responsible for drafting a bipartisan plan to fund the government and was having discussions about teaming up on a rare procedural tool to get out of a potential shutdown, which Congress could once again be facing on November 17.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the Republican co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, put out a scathing statement on Wednesday excoriating his Democratic and Republican colleagues alike and warned bipartisanship is going to be difficult going forward.

“The cause of bipartisanship, and the institution of Congress, took a major hit yesterday when a small group of extremists, aided and abetted by a larger group of enablers, put their personal grievances and political interests ahead of our country,” he said.

There are signs that Democrats, however, are hoping to turn the page on the messy chapter of this Congress. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who made the play call for Democrats not to save McCarthy, put out a statement Wednesday wishing him well and noting they “had a respectful, communicative and forward-looking relationship.”

With Republicans desperate to avoid the same chaos that toppled McCarthy on the floor – especially as they look to retain their narrow majority next year – there is now a serious push by some Republicans to make it harder for any single member to call for a speaker removal vote, with some making it a condition of their support for speaker. That will make it even harder for anyone to ascend to the speakership, as hardliners are demanding that the rules, which McCarthy agreed to in order win the gavel in January, remain in place.

“The ability for one person to vacate the speaker of the House will keep a chokehold on this body through 2024,” the business-centric Main Street Group said in a statement on Wednesday. “Any candidate for speaker must explain to us how what happened on Tuesday will never happen again.”

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is typically reluctant to weigh in on the often messy affairs of the House, encouraged Republicans to get rid of the tool.

“I have no advice to give to House Republicans except one – I hope whoever the next speaker is gets rid of the motion to vacate,” McConnell said. “I think it makes the speaker’s job impossible. The American people expect us to have a functioning government.”

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