This is not good for the House.
On Sunday, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, announced his intention to attempt the removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Republican from California, from his leadership position this week. Gaetz’s move came in response to McCarthy’s reliance on Democratic support to pass legislation aimed at avoiding a government shutdown.
According to Newsmax, McCarthy responded to Gaetz’s challenge with a defiant, “Bring it on.”
In various broadcast interviews, Gaetz, who has a longstanding feud with McCarthy, argued that McCarthy had violated agreements he made with House Republicans back in January when he ran for the position of speaker. As a result, Gaetz stated his intention to file a “motion to vacate the chair,” which is permitted by House rules.
McCarthy’s response was equally resolute, with him saying, “So be it. Bring it on. Let’s get it over with and let’s start governing.”
It’s worth noting that no speaker has ever been removed from office through such a maneuver. The process could involve procedural votes to prevent the motion or trigger a House floor vote on whether McCarthy should retain his position as speaker.
Gaetz, representing Florida, argued, “I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid and move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy.”
This dispute unfolded after a turbulent week in Congress, during which the government was on the brink of a shutdown, and the House, controlled by the majority party, struggled to pass its own legislation to prevent it. Many Republican lawmakers criticized the House’s delay in addressing annual spending bills, seeing it as a missed opportunity to compel the Senate to engage in negotiations on spending and policy priorities.
Throughout his tenure, McCarthy has consistently tried to appease the conservative faction within his party. Just last month, he initiated an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden without a House vote, despite previously arguing that the absence of such a vote rendered the process illegitimate. McCarthy has also pushed for spending levels for the next year that are well below the caps he had agreed upon with Biden to extend the nation’s debt ceiling.
Initially, McCarthy proposed a short-term government funding plan that included significant spending cuts of nearly 30% for many agencies and stringent border security provisions. However, this proposal was deemed inadequate by some Republicans, leading 21 of them to vote against it alongside every Democrat. Subsequently, McCarthy shifted his approach, proposing a bill that garnered Democratic support, maintaining current agency funding levels until mid-November and providing $16 billion in disaster relief for states and communities grappling with natural disasters. Both chambers of Congress approved this bill with overwhelming majorities.
Gaetz had previously threatened to file a motion to oust McCarthy if he cooperated with Democrats, asserting that the spending package exceeded the spending limits that McCarthy had previously agreed upon.
While McCarthy enjoys the support of a majority of House Republicans, the narrow 221-212 Republican majority means he may need some Democratic votes to retain his position. Gaetz suggested that he had enough support from Republicans to make McCarthy’s speakership contingent on Democratic backing, stating, “The only way Kevin McCarthy is speaker of the House at the end of this coming week is if Democrats bail him out.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, expressed her willingness to vote for McCarthy’s removal as speaker if such a vote were to take place, characterizing him as a “weak speaker” who had “lost control of his caucus.” However, she also indicated the possibility of negotiations, suggesting that Democratic support for McCarthy would come at a price.
President Biden declined to comment on whether Democrats should assist McCarthy in retaining his position, stating, “I don’t have a vote on that matter.”
Notably, Gaetz’s tactics have drawn criticism from many House Republicans, with Representative Mike Lawler from New York referring to Gaetz’s actions as a “diatribe of delusional thinking” driven by “personal, political reasons.” McCarthy echoed this sentiment, accusing Gaetz of being more interested in securing TV interviews than in taking meaningful action.
Despite the controversy, McCarthy remains unpopular with some members of his own party, as evidenced by the difficulty he faced in gaining the necessary support within his conference to become speaker back in January, which required 15 rounds of voting.
House rules permit any individual lawmaker, whether Democrat or Republican, to initiate a “motion to vacate the chair,” effectively attempting to remove the speaker from their leadership position through a privileged resolution. During his bid for speaker, McCarthy initially agreed to allow as few as five Republican members to initiate such a vote. However, when this concession proved insufficient for his critics, he reduced the threshold to one, which has historically been the norm.
Supporters of this rule argue that it promotes accountability, citing its long history in the House. The last use of the motion was in 2015 when then-Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina who later became President Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff, introduced a resolution to declare the speaker’s office vacant. Two months later, then-Speaker John Boehner of Ohio announced his resignation.
Despite the challenge, McCarthy expressed confidence that Gaetz’s efforts would not succeed, asserting, “Yes, I’ll survive.”