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Far-right members threaten a 'reckoning' over McCarthy's debt limit deal

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, speaks during the House Freedom Caucus news conference to oppose the debt limit deal outside of the US Capitol on May 30, 2023. <a href="https://www.gettyimages.com/license/1258294322?adppopup=true"></a>
Bill Clark
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CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, speaks during the House Freedom Caucus news conference to oppose the debt limit deal outside of the US Capitol on May 30, 2023.

Updated May 30, 2023 at 9:50 PM ET

Anger over House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's deal with President Biden to raise the debt ceiling is bubbling over, with some conservative members threatening to oust McCarthy as speaker.

"This deal fails — fails completely — and that's why these members and others will be absolutely opposed to the deal and we will do everything in our power to stop it," House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania said during a press conference with caucus members Tuesday afternoon.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the Freedom Caucus, was even more blunt: "The Republican conference right now has been torn asunder," he said. "Not one Republican should vote for this deal – not one."

Roy argued there was a "breach" in the structure set up by House Republicans after the January vote to elect McCarthy as speaker. He vowed to fight the new compromise bill and, without mentioning the speaker by name, added: "No matter what happens, there is going to be a reckoning."

Under a rule McCarthy agreed to in January as a concession to his conservative critics, any one House member can offer a resolution to remove the House speaker.

The deal McCarthy and Biden reached in principal over the weekend would avoid a historic government debt default by raising the nation's debt ceiling for nearly two years.

The compromise bill, clocking in at 99 pages long, holds nondefense spending for fiscal year 2024 at roughly current levels and will raise it by 1% in 2025. It also sets spending caps for the federal budget, raises the age of food stamp recipients subject to work requirements and claws back funding for the Internal Revenue Service, among other things. But some conservatives in the House criticized the scale of the cuts, arguing they were not fully in line with an earlier partisan bill to raise the debt ceiling that House Republicans passed in April.

One after another, members of the Freedom Caucus at the press conference called on fellow Republicans to oppose the bill.

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., called the vote on the deal a "career-defining vote for every Republican."

Later, when asked by reporters if a motion to oust McCarthy over the bill is on the table, Bishop was the sole member to raise his hand.

McCarthy, for his part, is projecting confidence.

Asked by reporters whether he thinks his speakership is secure, McCarthy responded: "Yep."

As to opposition from members of his own conference, McCarthy defended the deal, saying "it's the most conservative deal we ever had."

He added: "Sometimes people just don't want to vote for a debt ceiling."

Rep. Patrick McHenry, one of the key negotiators of the deal, told reporters he does not believe McCarthy's job is in jeopardy.

"With a narrow majority in the House, we got the most conservative outcome we possibly could," the North Carolina Republican said. "I wanted more — I absolutely wanted more — but what we have here is better than what was about to come."

The fact that conservative GOP — and progressive Democratic — lawmakers aren't happy with the final compromise deal isn't entirely surprising. Top congressional leaders as well as Biden said that no one would walk away completely satisfied. Rep. Greg Casar, member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told All Things Considered co-host Ailsa Chang Tuesday that "many" in the caucus are leaning against the bill over some of the spending cuts. "We have to hold the line against people getting screwed, getting kicked off of vital food programs, getting kicked off of their child core assistance, losing health care or losing housing," Casar said. The group argues that savings could have been found instead by closing tax loopholes for wealthy taxpayers.

Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, who chairs the conservative Main Street Caucus, maintains the compromise legislation can still pass the House.

"We're going to get to 218, and I have every confidence of that," he told NPR's Here & Now.

"The vast majority of the Republican conference in the House is going to vote for this bill. And and how could they not? It is in many ways an historic accomplishment," he said, noting the reduction in spending and changes to welfare reform policy.

Asked on Monday whether he was aware of any threat to McCarthy as speaker, Johnson said he hadn't heard of one.

The House Rules panel advanced the bill, clearing key hurdle

The bill overcame a potential roadblock on Tuesday night when the House Rules Committee voted 7-6 to advance it to the House floor for debate and a vote on final passage, which is planned for Wednesday.

The panel includes nine Republicans and four Democrats and typically paves the way for bills drafted by the speaker to the House floor.

Conservative Freedom Caucus members had hoped to block the bill from advancing out of the Rules Committee. But Rep. Thomas Massie, a conservative who the group hoped would join their effort, chose to advance it to the House floor. Earlier in the day, Massie said members of the Rules panel owe the rest of Congress "an honest shake" and opportunity to voice their opinion with a vote on the House floor.

Freedom Caucus members Reps. Ralph Norman and Chip Roy joined Democrats on the committee to vote against the rule.

During the Rules Committee hearing earlier in the day, Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Penn., said that while he has yet to meet anyone who loves the deal, "perhaps that is a sign it is fair compromise between a narrowly Republican House, and a narrowly Democratic Senate, and of course, a Democratic White House."

If the bill passes the House, it then moves to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said there may be a weekend vote to get the legislation passed before June 5, the date at which the Treasury Department has said the U.S. may run out of money to pay its bills.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.