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What it was like for one representative who supported keeping McCarthy as speaker

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Today in a historic vote, the House voted to oust its speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy. It is the first time in history that a House speaker has been removed in this way. The vote was forced by a contingent of conservative Republicans led by Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, and it has thrown the House into an uncertain future. We're joined now by Republican Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa. Welcome to the program.

MARIANNETTE MILLER-MEEKS: Well, thank you very much. Good evening.

SUMMERS: Good evening, indeed. I understand that you voted in support of keeping Congressman McCarthy as speaker of the House. What was the deciding factor for you?

MILLER-MEEKS: Well, for me, we have had unprecedented wins, conservative policy victories throughout the nine months that Speaker McCarthy has been our speaker - so whether it is H.R. 1, our energy bill to have energy independence and to bring down food and fuel prices for average Americans, H.R. 2, border security spending cuts done in a very thoughtful manner, you know, parents' bill of rights. So we had a pay raise for our military, 5.2%. We successfully negotiated through the debt limit with permitting reform, with work requirements and with repayment - ending the pause for the repayment of student loans. All of these were tremendous conservative victories. We have been pushing through appropriations bills, single appropriations bills.

SUMMERS: Yeah.

MILLER-MEEKS: All members have had 72 hours to read the bills. And so McCarthy has navigated this while bringing us to a historic win in the 2020 elections...

SUMMERS: Right.

MILLER-MEEKS: ...To get close to the majority and then a win in the 2022 elections to give us a majority.

SUMMERS: So it sounds like it's about a track record for you. I mean, when you head back to your district - and it's one that I know you won narrowly - how do you explain what has happened here, the fact that for the first time ever, the House has voted to remove its speaker? How do you explain that to the people that you represent?

MILLER-MEEKS: Well, I think certainly it's disappointing, and it's frustrating. But this is, you know, an individual who has personal animosity to Speaker McCarthy, has done so since the initial vote for Speaker McCarthy. So despite the fact that the vast majority of our conference wants Kevin McCarthy as speaker, you have an individual who is able to fundraise off dividing Republicans. His rationale for ousting Speaker McCarthy has not proven to be true, and he's why - you know, he's Biden's favorite Republican.

SUMMERS: You're talking there...

MILLER-MEEKS: He's siding with the Democrats.

SUMMERS: And you're talking there, I'll note, about Congressman Matt Gaetz, who led the push here. I mean, Congresswoman, the question that I have here is, if not Kevin McCarthy, then who? There is not an obvious successor to lead your conference. Do you see anyone that would have enough support to be able to step in at this point?

MILLER-MEEKS: Well, we ask this of Representative Gaetz, and he has no plan. He has no plan. He has no individual. He has no person. As I said, this was a - you know, a personal animosity that visits - you know, it's a - it does not serve the American people. It's a disservice to the American people that we are now caught up in a speaker fight instead of continuing to pass single appropriations bills that we had, instead of, you know, continuing to get movement on the border. Representative Gaetz is also the person who - you know, he and his minions brought down a continuing resolution that had a debt commission on it and that had border security. So if your top issue is border security, we had border security that we could push through this administration to enact our immigration laws. If spending was your issue, we had record spending cuts and a debt commission to address long-term mandatory spending...

SUMMERS: Right.

MILLER-MEEKS: ...Which is an issue. So, you know, regardless of which way you're looking at this from a Republican, McCarthy has delivered. And, you know, Representative Gaetz has sowed dissension, which is why, you know, President Biden has him as his favorite Republican. He's worked more with the Democrats in the past two weeks than Kevin McCarthy.

SUMMERS: We have about a minute left here. And I just want to ask you, there's a matter of timing here. There's a threat of another - of a potential government shutdown just outside the door. Key issues lay before the Congress. It took four days and 15 votes to elect Kevin McCarthy as House speaker, and now Republicans have to start all over. Do you get any sense that this could happen with some urgency?

MILLER-MEEKS: Well, I think that it will happen with some urgency. One of the reasons why I was not in support of the motion to vacate is precisely for that reason. We have appropriations bills we're trying to get passed. We have hearings. We have investigations into the Biden family corruption that we're trying to do. All of that is put on hold while we go through this process. So, again, you know, Representative Gaetz has disrupted the process. He has stalled all of our progress within the House for his, you know, animosity...

SUMMERS: OK.

MILLER-MEEKS: ...And fundraising against Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans.

SUMMERS: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Republican from Iowa, thank you for coming on the program today.

MILLER-MEEKS: Thank you so much for having me and have a good evening.

SUMMERS: You too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gurjit Kaur
Gurjit Kaur is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. A pop culture nerd, her work primarily focuses on television, film and music.
Sarah Handel
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.