Republicans are divided on far-right move to remove McCarthy as House speaker, an AP-NORC poll shows

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Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks to reporters as House Republicans hold a closed-door forum to hear from the candidates for speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. New polling shows that the unprecedented ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has left no consensus among Republicans about whether his removal was the right move. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The unprecedented ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has left no consensus among Republicans about whether his removal was the right move as the party struggles to coalesce around a new leader, according to a new poll.

Only one-quarter of Republicans say they approve of the stunning decision by a small group of House Republicans to remove the California lawmaker from his post during a vote last week. Three in 10 Republicans believe it was a mistake for a small faction of the party, and all Democrats, to support a motion ejecting McCarthy from the speakership.

“It’s just chaos,” Betsy Young, a Republican from Oregon, told The Associated Press. “And I don’t think it’s helpful.”

About 4 in 10 Republicans (43%) say they neither approve nor disapprove. That is according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted after McCarthy became the first speaker in history to be voted out of the role.

The political upheaval in Congress has left Americans as a whole split on the issue — if they have an opinion at all — with some saying McCarthy had it coming and others warning of the precedent such action could set for future speakers. Overall, a quarter of Americans said they approve, a quarter disapprove and about half say neither.

Thomas Adkins, a Republican from North Carolina, told the AP that the former speaker “relinquished his leadership” when he made a deal with congressional Democrats to fund the government last month while facing a looming shutdown deadline.

“That’s sort of going over to the enemy in my thinking, so in that respect, I thoroughly disapprove of the speaker’s actions,” the 84-year-old said.

Kevin Fry, a Republican from Indiana, echoed those sentiments, saying McCarthy “didn’t keep his word” to the party when he said he would not negotiate on cutting spending and other conservative priorities. “When you give your word and everybody relies on that, then you know, you need to be held accountable,” the 64-year-old added.

It is the same argument the eight far-right members who voted for McCarthy’s removal made on the floor of the House last week. That decision and Democrats’ willingness to join along has since thrown the House and its Republican leadership into disarray as the majority is now rushing to vote in a new speaker this week to lead them during this divisive moment.

But Young, who considers herself a moderate Republican, calls the reasoning for McCarthy’s removal “stupid,” resulting in a stain on the GOP moving forward.

“(Democrats and Republicans) are supposed to work together, and they forget that,” she said. “They’re in their own bubble and they forget that the rest of the country is not Washington, or it’s not the state capitals.”

The poll shows that conservative Republicans are more likely than those who describe themselves as moderate or liberal to approve of the move to remove McCarthy, 31% to 16%. Even among conservatives, though, 33% said they disapprove.

A quarter of Democrats also disapprove of McCarthy being removed, despite all their representatives voting in favor of the motion. Thirty percent of Democrats approve.

Deedee Gunderson, a Democrat from New Mexico, said that while she’s not a fan of McCarthy and how he has governed, she’s worried that his ouster has given more power to the extremes of the Republican Party.

“I think they are trying to destroy this government,” she said.

Following McCarthy’s removal, 39% of Republicans say they have an unfavorable view of the former speaker. That’s up slightly from 25% in an AP-NORC poll conducted in January.

The fight over congressional leadership also comes after the chamber narrowly avoided a government shutdown by passing a short-term funding bill that delays its fiscal deadline until mid-November. That conflict over government spending and financial priorities is expected to resume in the coming weeks, with U.S. aid to Ukraine against Russia’s invasion one of the major issues at play. The poll shows 69% of Republicans — but just 37% of Democrats — think the U.S. government is spending too much on Ukraine aid.

Overall, a majority of Americans continue to say U.S. spending is too high, but have little appetite for cuts to major programs. And Americans are split on which party would do a better job handling the federal budget, with 27% saying Democrats and 26% Republicans. A third of Americans say they trust neither party.

“Our spending is so out of control that I can’t believe how much debt we’ve incurred on both sides,” Fry said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily a Democratic or Republican issue.”

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The poll of 1,163 adults was conducted Oct. 5-9, 2023, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, designed to represent the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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