The House will hold a vote on Tuesday afternoon on removing Kevin McCarthy from the speaker’s chair, with hard-right members prepared to oust the Republican leader just nine months after he was elected.
Congressman Matt Gaetz introduced a motion to vacate on Monday night, as the hard-right lawmaker from Florida continued to rail against McCarthy for collaborating with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown over the weekend.
McCarthy and his allies had tried to quash Gaetz’s rebellion by introducing a procedural motion to table, or kill, the proposal earlier on Tuesday. That motion failed in a vote of 208 to 218, teeing up the final vote on removing McCarthy. Eleven House Republicans voted against the motion to table.
The House math is difficult for McCarthy. With such a narrow majority, McCarthy can only afford to lose four Republican votes and keep his gavel, assuming every House Democrat votes against the speaker. When the House held the vote on the motion to table on Tuesday, five Democrats and two Republicans were recorded as absent. But with 207 Democrats voting in unison against the motion to table, Gaetz had more than enough votes to advance his motion to vacate.
House Democratic leaders revealed shortly before the procedural vote on Tuesday that they were urging caucus members to vote “yes” on the motion to vacate the chair. After meeting with members on Tuesday morning, the House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries, said his caucus was “unified in our commitment to put people over politics”.
“House Democrats remain willing to find common ground on an enlightened path forward. Unfortunately, our extreme Republican colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same,” Jeffries said in a “Dear Colleague” letter. “Given their unwillingness to break from [Make America Great Again] extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes on the pending Republican Motion to Vacate the Chair.”
House Democrats will continue to put people over politics.
We are ready to find bipartisan common ground.
Our extreme colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same.
They must find a way to end the House Republican Civil War.
— Hakeem Jeffries (@RepJeffries) October 3, 2023
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with his conference on Tuesday morning, McCarthy appeared somewhat resigned to his fate, even as he said he was “confident” he could hang on.
“If five Republicans go with Democrats, then I’m out,” McCarthy acknowledged.
A reporter said: “That looks likely.”
McCarthy replied: “Probably so.”
If the motion to vacate is successful, McCarthy will have an opportunity to choose a temporary speaker until an election is held. In January, the House required 15 rounds of voting to elect McCarthy as speaker, and a second election could prove even more prolonged and contentious.
Even as he stared down the potential end of his speakership, McCarthy expressed no regret about working with Democrats to keep the government open. The stopgap bill passed by the House on Saturday will keep the government funded through 17 November, averting a shutdown that could have forced hundreds of thousands of federal employees to go without pay.
“At the end of the day, keeping the government open and paying our troops was the right decision. I stand by that decision,” McCarthy said. “If I have to lose my job over it, so be it, but I’m going to fight for the American public, and I’ll continue to fight.”
Although it appears Gaetz has the votes to remove McCarthy, some other hard-right Republicans who opposed McCarthy when he ran for the speakership in January were more cautious about ousting him.
Congressman Ralph Norman, a hard-right Republican of South Carolina who initially opposed McCarthy’s speakership bid, urged his colleagues to focus their attention on passing full-year funding bills.
“I have been profoundly disappointed in several elements of Speaker McCarthy’s leadership, but now is not the time to pursue a Motion to Vacate,” Norman said on X. “Instead, Congress desperately needs to devote its full attention to passing these appropriations bills within the next 43 days.”
But another 10 or so hard-right lawmakers lined up in support of the motion to vacate, likely sealing McCarthy’s fate. Despite the grim state of affairs, McCarthy’s allies took to the House floor to defend his reputation.
“The overwhelming majority of my party supports the speaker that we elected. We’re proud of the leadership he’s shown,” said congressman Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma. “There’s a second group – a small group. Honestly, they’re willing to plunge this body into chaos and this country into uncertainty for reasons that only they really understand. I certainly don’t.”
Stepping up to the mic, Gaetz rejected Cole’s argument, instead insisting that the current state of the House represented an unacceptable status quo.
“My friend from Oklahoma says that my colleagues and I who don’t support Kevin McCarthy would plunge the House and the country into chaos,” Gaetz said. “Chaos is speaker McCarthy. Chaos is somebody who we cannot trust with their word.”