After months of threats and chaotic infighting, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is finally facing a vote on whether he will continue to lead the House Republican majority.
On Monday night, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) filed a “motion to vacate the chair,” a procedural maneuver that forces an up-or-down vote on ousting McCarthy as Speaker.
In front of hundreds of lawmakers assembled in the House just after an evening vote, Gaetz stepped forward, delivering no speech or remarks other than the requisite parliamentary language needed to formally file the motion.
Minutes later, McCarthy posted his response on the X social media platform (formerly Twitter): “Bring it on.”
Gaetz had a quick reply: “Just did.”
The Florida congressman had telegraphed his intention to call the vote after McCarthy advanced a bill to avert a government shutdown on Saturday, which passed over significant GOP opposition thanks to near-unanimous support from House Democrats.
“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid,” Gaetz said Sunday on CNN. “I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy.”
The formal filing of the motion kicks off a 48-hour clock before a vote can occur. At any point until then, a lawmaker can call a vote to table the motion to vacate, which would trigger an immediate vote on killing the motion.
It’s unclear exactly how much support Gaetz, the most vocal and vehement critic of McCarthy, has in his corner. But on Monday, several GOP lawmakers indicated to reporters that they would likely support a motion to vacate, such as Reps. Bob Good (R-VA), Eli Crane (R-AZ), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ). After he filed the motion, Gaetz claimed to reporters that he knew one of two things: either McCarthy would be removed, or he wold be speaker because Democrats helped him overcome the vote.
“If Democrats want to own Kevin McCarthy, they can have him,” Gaetz said, suggesting he has at least five Republican votes, as the current breakdown in the House is 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats.
A number of Republicans, including those on the party's right flank, spent the day making the case that a vote to oust McCarthy would be a waste of time. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), for instance, tweeted her support for keeping McCarthy on Monday morning.
In any case, it’s certain that a motion to vacate will fail without a clear majority of House Democratic votes to get rid of McCarthy. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has not indicated how Democratic leadership will instruct the caucus to vote.
But with Republicans' narrow House majority, there will likely be enough GOP votes against McCarthy that he would need at least some Democratic support to keep him in the job.
If McCarthy were somehow ousted, House business would be suspended until the election of a new speaker, and the California Republican would be able to run again. The anti-McCarthy faction has been reluctant to name candidates they would prefer instead, though Gaetz said on Monday night he would vote for Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), McCarthy's longtime deputy.
In the modern history of Congress, the motion to vacate has almost never been used. In 2015, right-wing House Republicans attempted to leverage it to oust former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), but they never forced a vote. The last time the procedural tool forced a vote to vacate the speakership was in 1910, when then-Speaker Joe Cannon offered the motion to remove himself to prove he still had the support of the GOP conference. (He did and remained speaker.)
As a condition for winning the speakership in January over determined opposition, McCarthy agreed to allow even one lawmaker to call a motion to vacate.