Congressman Matt Gaetz, a hard-right Republican of Florida, introduced a motion to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker on Monday, expressing outrage over the Republican leader’s successful efforts to avoid a government shutdown this weekend.
“I have enough Republicans where at this point next week, one of two things will happen: Kevin McCarthy won’t be the speaker of the House, or he’ll be the speaker of the House working at the pleasure of the Democrats,” Gaetz told reporters after he filed the motion. “I’m at peace with either result because the American people deserve to know who governs them.”
McCarthy responded minutes later on social media: “Bring it on.”
The announcement comes two days after the House passed a stopgap spending bill to extend government funding through 17 November, averting a shutdown that could have forced hundreds of thousands of federal workers to go without pay. Both the House and the Senate passed the bill, known as a continuing resolution, with overwhelming bipartisan majorities before Joe Biden signed the bill late on Saturday evening.
But Gaetz had warned that he would move to oust McCarthy if the speaker collaborated with Democrats to keep the government open and he followed through with that threat on Monday evening. Now that Gaetz has introduced a motion to vacate the chair, House leadership will have to schedule a vote on the matter within two legislative days.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) October 2, 2023
Moments after his much-anticipated move on the House floor, Gaetz held an impromptu press conference in which he acknowledged that his effort might fail – at least on the first try.
“I think that’s the likely outcome,” Gaetz said. But in leaving open the prospect of repeated moves to get McCarthy fired, Gaetz predicted that support could grow and the initial vote on evicting McCarthy would be “the floor and not the ceiling”.
McCarthy’s allies are expected to deploy some procedural tactics to derail Gaetz’s motion, but if those efforts fail, it will take only a simple majority of voting members present to remove the speaker.
Because of House Republicans’ narrow majority, McCarthy can only afford to lose five votes within his conference and still hold the speakership, assuming every House member participates in the vote. Despite that tricky math, McCarthy has struck a defiant tone in recent days, insisting he has the votes to keep his gavel.
“I’ll survive,” McCarthy told CBS News on Sunday. “So be it. Bring it on. Let’s get over with it and let’s start governing.”
Previewing his motion in a House floor speech on Monday afternoon, Gaetz accused McCarthy of cutting “a secret side deal” with Biden to provide additional funding to Ukraine, which has become a source of outrage among hard-right lawmakers. The stopgap spending measure passed by Congress did not include additional money for Ukraine, but Biden said on Saturday that he did “fully expect the speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine” and soon pass a supplemental funding bill to address that omission.
“It is going to be difficult for my Republican friends to keep calling President Biden ‘feeble’ while he continues to take Speaker McCarthy’s lunch money in every negotiation,” Gaetz said in his floor speech. “Members of the Republican party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us about his secret side deal with Joe Biden on Ukraine.”
Speaking to reporters after the floor speech, Gaetz indicated he would keep pushing motions to vacate until McCarthy is removed.
“It took Speaker McCarthy 15 votes to become the speaker, so until I get to 14 or 15, I don’t think I’m being any more dilatory than he was,” Gaetz said.
It remains unclear how many Republicans will join Gaetz in pushing for McCarthy’s ouster, but at least one other hard-right lawmaker, Eli Crane of Arizona, has indicated he will support the motion.
In the hours leading up to Gaetz’s announcement, however, House Republican leaders lined up in support of McCarthy.
“We have a lot of work to do. Now is not the time for distractions,” Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, said on Monday. “I’m committed to continuing to work with [McCarthy] and our entire leadership team on reducing spending, securing our border, and fighting for hardworking Americans.”
Asked who he would support as a replacement for McCarthy, Gaetz said: “I think very highly of Steve Scalise. I would vote for Steve Scalise” as well as many other Republicans.
Scalise currently serves as House majority leader, the No 2 job in the chamber.
McCarthy’s fate may come down to attendance numbers and House Democrats’ strategy. Absences could potentially lower the threshold of a simple majority needed for McCarthy to keep his gavel, as some House members will be looking to travel to California in the coming days for Senator Dianne Feinstein’s funeral. Feinstein will lie in state at San Francisco city hall on Wednesday before funeral services will be held on Thursday.
Several House Democrats late on Monday said they would await direction from party leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Jeffries has not said so far if his caucus would join rightwing Republicans to help topple McCarthy or if Democrats might support him in exchange for political or legislative favors.
Some centrist Democrats have also indicated they would vote “present” on a motion to vacate, which would similarly lower the threshold of a simple majority. Asked on Monday whether he would strike a deal with Democrats to save his speakership, McCarthy offered a vague response about protecting the integrity of the House.
“I think this is about the institution,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s too important.”