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Most of Missouri and Illinois Republicans in Congress decry McCarthy ouster

Congressman Mark Alford was sworn into office to represent Missouri's 4th Congressional District in January.
Congressman Mark Alford
U.S. Rep. Mark Alford of Cass County said Tuesday's vote to remove Kevin McCarthy from his role as speaker of the House is an indication that Congress should change the rule that allows just one member to call for such a vote.

Republicans who represent Missouri and Metro East in the U.S. House are not happy with Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as speaker.

And GOP U.S. Rep. Mark Alford of Cass County said the move places the House into chaos.

“Our ship has no rudder right now,” Alford said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

Alford joined Missouri Republicans Jason Smith, Ann Wagner, Eric Burlison, Sam Graves and Blaine Luetkemeyer in voting against removing McCarthy. Illinois Reps. Mike Bost and Mary Miller also voted against the motion to do so from Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.

Those votes weren’t enough to save the California Republican, especially after most of the House Democrats joined with eight Republicans to remove McCarthy from his position. Republicans like Gaetz were furious that McCarthy depended on Democratic votes to pass a spending temporary resolution that kept the government open.

But even lawmakers who voted against that move over the weekend, like Bost, said that the decision to get rid of McCarthy was counterproductive.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If conservatives truly want to defend our values, then we must stop fighting each other and start taking it to the liberals who voted in lockstep against Kevin McCarthy today,” said Bost, R-Murphysboro.

Alford said McCarthy’s decision in January to give power to a single member of his caucus to produce a motion to “vacate the chair” made it much more likely that he would eventually lose the speaker’s gavel. He said that he argued for a larger threshold to prevent scenarios like what unfolded on Tuesday.

Alford added he’s not sure if there’s a way to change the rule around vacating the speaker’s office.

“Kevin McCarthy wanted the speaker's position. And to get that position, he basically gave up his future as speaker,” Alford said. “I don't know how you go back. I've asked some people that way. I think the full Congress has to vote now to change that rule. Nancy Pelosi didn't have a vacate the chair rule. And I think there were some other speakers in history that didn't. Others had different provisions. But if you can have one person call up like Matt Gaetz did, and call to vacate the chair, then I don't think you can have effective leadership in a body as diverse as the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Congressman Jason Smith listens to attendees at a roundtable of health care professionals on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at Crystal City City Hall. Smith, R-Salem, is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Jason Rosenbaum
U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said the decision to oust McCarthy will ultimately help Democrats in the House.

Gaetz and other McCarthy critics were particularly upset that the House was never able to pass individual appropriations bills — and instead had to essentially pass a bill funding the federal government in one bill.

But Smith said Gaetz’s decision was shortsighted, especially since McCarthy was able to pass a legislative package raising the debt ceiling that contained a number of provisions that House Republicans liked. And he added in a statement that the move will ultimately help Democrats, who support policy ideas that Republicans virulently oppose.

“It is irrational that any House Republican would vote to push out Speaker McCarthy, who has done more than any Speaker of the House — Republican or Democrat — to give each and every member a voice at the table,” Smith said. “Speaker McCarthy has led the House in achieving critical victories on behalf of the American people by empowering committees to do the legislative and oversight work that is needed, and by listening to all members about their concerns and priorities.”

Burlison, who voted against the spending plan on Saturday, said he was opposed to ousting McCarthy because it takes his colleagues' focus away from issues such as reducing "wasteful spending" and "securing the border."

"Moving forward, I want to see bold leadership that will work to achieve these goals," Burlison said. "Regardless of who leads us, now is the time to pass the rest of our 12 appropriations bills and finish the job the American people sent us here to accomplish."

U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski (IL-13), D-Springfield, on Monday, April 10, 2023, at St. Louis Public Radio’s headquarters in Grand Center,
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield, voted with most of the Democratic caucus to remove McCarthy as House speaker.

Cleaver and Budzinski vote to remove McCarthy

McCarthy’s downfall came about with the help of most all House Democrats, who voted for Gaetz’s motion. Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City and Illinois Rep. Nikki Budzinski backed the move, while Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis County didn’t vote.

In a statement, Cleaver said that when Democrats had a slim majority, as House Republicans do now, they were able to accomplish a lot more — and never faced the type of leadership turmoil that’s personified the last few months.

“Kevin McCarthy has actively opposed bipartisanship in the People’s House, fomented chaos and crises by kowtowing to the most extreme members of his caucus, and failed to follow through on the most basic of bipartisan agreements time and time again,” Cleaver said. “The American people deserve leaders that will put families before political theater and partisan brinksmanship — which is something Speaker McCarthy has proven incapable of doing. I could not in good conscience support such an individual for the esteemed position of Speaker.”

Budzinski, D-Springfield, said on the social media platform X: “Kevin McCarthy has shown no interest in stopping the chaos and drama or finding bipartisan solutions. He is not fit to serve as Speaker of the House.”

It’s not out of the question that Democrats like Budzinski, Bush and Cleaver could play a role in selecting the next House speaker if the GOP caucus isn’t united on a replacement. And while it’s highly unlikely that Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries would get votes from enough Republicans to take the gavel, it’s possible they could support someone who could give House Democrats more tangible power.

Potential replacements include House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota. But Alford said it’s not out of the question that McCarthy’s replacement could face similar issues in keeping the GOP caucus together.

“Basically, you had five or six people who changed the course of history,” Alford said. “I think some of them for personal reasons … never liked Kevin and never wanted to be in that office. And they’re intent on seeing him gone. And when they didn't get things exactly their way...they propelled us to this moment in time where we're without a speaker of the House.”

Luetkemeyer fumes at Gaetz

Perhaps the most fiery statement from the Missouri or Illinois delegation came from U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer.

While not mentioning Gaetz by name, Luetkemeyer accused the people who constantly voted against McCarthy of forfeiting their right to call themselves Republicans — especially, as Smith contended, their actions helped Democrats.

“Today, some of the same ‘Republicans’ again joined Democrats to remove Speaker McCarthy from his post. Because of their actions, the investigations of President Biden and his family have stopped,” said Luetkemeyer, referring to an impeachment inquiry that McCarthy launched several weeks ago. “When you regularly vote with Democrats to block spending cuts, harm border security, and protect President Biden from investigations, you’re not a Republican.

“This is not about the national debt – they blocked spending cuts. It’s not about border security – they blocked that too,” he added. “This is about their desire for attention and effort to raise money for their next campaign, as well as protection for the Biden family.”

Gaetz and Luetkemeyer have been at odds for months. After he accused Gaetz of criticizing McCarthy in order to gain attention for himself, the Florida Republican called Luetkemeyer a “foolish husk of a man.”

Alford noted that he’s worked with Gaetz on the House Armed Services Committee. And while he said that it’s highly unlikely that someone like Gaetz will become speaker, he added that he told Gatez during a recent conversation, “I will never consider you the enemy.

“'But I don't agree with what you're doing or how you're going about it.' And I think he respects that. He says he's not taking things personally,” Alford said. “But I do think he had it out for Kevin from the very beginning. And I think to some degree, this is personal with him. He says it's not. But the things that he's accused Kevin McCarthy of doing did not happen.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.