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House GOP divided over whether McCarthy should give in on ‘motion to vacate’

<i>Andrew Harnik/AP/FILE</i><br/>Republicans are divided over whether current GOP leader Kevin McCarthy should give in on
Andrew Harnik/AP/FILE
Republicans are divided over whether current GOP leader Kevin McCarthy should give in on "motion to vacate." McCarthy is pictured here at the White House in Washington on November 29.

By Lauren Fox, Melanie Zanona, Kristin Wilson and Sarah Fortinsky, CNN

The House Republican Conference is still entrenched in an internal war over whether to reinstate an arcane rule that would empower any member to bring up a vote to oust a speaker at any time.

The bitter divide is only heating up and has emerged center stage in House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s quest for 218 votes to win the position. For McCarthy’s backers, the so-called motion to vacate is seen as little more than a promise of hostage taking, a tool that could be used by the right flank to hamstring McCarthy’s ability to lead the conference and effectively govern.

“There’s a reason [the motion to vacate] already got debated. You can’t govern with a gun to your head and that is what they are asking for. It makes us highly unstable, and it lays out the potential too for Democrats to take advantage of this and create absolute chaos,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, told CNN. “There is a reason people are against it. You can scream the word accountability all you want … in the end it’s just a path to chaos, not stability, and we are going to have to be very united and very stable if we are going to govern properly. “

But with just a few weeks before January 3 — the day the House will vote on the floor for their next speaker — the tool may be the only way McCarthy can convince some members to fall in line behind him.

“There is no CEO in the country that doesn’t have accountability. There’s nobody that goes to work every day that doesn’t have accountability. The country can’t wait two years for accountability,” Rep. Scott Perry, a conservative Republican from Pennsylvania, told reporters, about why he wants to see the motion to vacate reinstated.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Ralph Norman, who is opposed to McCarthy’s speakership, acknowledged that McCarthy has previously said he is against the idea of resorting the motion to vacate, but said, “everything is on the table.” Asked whether he thought McCarthy would cede any ground on the issue, Norman said, “We’ll see. It’s all up for negotiation.”

He also defended the push by hardliners to extract concessions from McCarthy.

“They vetted candidates for Miss America more than they do the speaker,” Norman said. “We’re vetting it. … We are going through the process. It’s a healthy process.”

For now, leadership is keeping their options open on the motion to vacate with Republican Whip Steve Scalise telling reporters Tuesday, “There are continuing negotiations going on. “

“We are going to keep working with everybody to get a House that can function,” Scalise said.

Asked by CNN if he’s made any headway with members who are insisting on the rules change the chair for their support, McCarthy said Tuesday: “I think we’ve been making a lot of progress,” and they continue to “work through the conference the rules … it’s listening to everybody, working through, but I think people are in a much better place and I think we’ll all find a place to get together on this.”

Asked if there’s any wiggle room for him, McCarthy dodged, saying, “I think as a conference, we continue to talk together, we look at all the rules. We’re going to have another rules forum tomorrow as well.”

Some in the GOP conference are downplaying the impact of the fight over the motion to vacate with Rep. Jim Jordan, a conservative member from Ohio and one-time thorn in the side of GOP leadership, telling CNN that while some colleagues are holding firm on their demands for the motion to vacate that the conference is going to “keep talking.”

“I think we’re going to get there. I think we’re going to get to January 3, and Kevin’s going to be elected speaker. And we’re going to hit the ground running. What do we got, three weeks? And I think progress is being made,” Jordan said.

The House is scheduled to hold another rules meeting on Wednesday where they will debate the issue.

Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, a moderate Republican who is backing McCarthy, said members should be “grateful for having the majority with his leadership.”

Asked for her position on the motion to vacate, Mace said she doesn’t have an opinion at this time but added: “If we can get the conference together and unify that is our biggest strength… We’ve got to work together.”

Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, warned that Republicans “have challenges ahead” of them and urged his colleagues to unite. “This is a time we need to take leadership, get our leader elected and get on about our agenda,” he said.

McCarthy still doesn’t have the votes to be the next speaker of the House, raising questions as to whether Republicans may go to the floor on January 3 unsure if the votes will be there to elect McCarthy as speaker.

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