A conservative member of his own party who has been a vocal critic for a long time has moved to call for a vote on whether Speaker Kevin McCarthy should continue in that position, setting up an extraordinary referendum on his leadership of the House of Representatives.
GOP Representative Matt Gaetz told reporters after filing the motion, “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.” I’m okay with either outcome because the American people have a right to know who is in charge.
A few minutes later, McCarthy wrote on social media, “Bring it on.”
Gaetz, a far-right Republican from Florida, has repeatedly threatened to try to remove McCarthy from his position by using a procedural device called a motion to vacate.
After McCarthy leaned on Democrats to deliver the necessary votes to fund the government, those threats increased over the weekend. McCarthy’s choice may push him to seek out Democrats on the other side of the aisle for support, and it has certainly set him up for what will be the final leadership test.
But it’s still uncertain how the vote will actually proceed because possible parliamentary maneuvers could affect the result. And McCarthy’s aides have been claiming for weeks that they are anticipating a motion.
The vote might lead to embarrassment—the first speaker ever removed from office through such a motion—or renewed strength as he overcomes yet another challenge while attempting to lead a small, awkward majority.
His detractors on the right have pursued him relentlessly, preventing him from winning votes and impeding his ambitions.
McCarthy, though, recently praised the attempt to remove him and said it was a chance to finally silence his detractors.
Gaetz said that the attempt is probably doomed to fail. When asked what he wanted to achieve, he replied that Americans needed to know who was in charge.
Gaetz charged McCarthy with striking a deal with the White House during financing discussions to advance legislation to aid Ukraine in its conflict with Russia in a speech on the House floor earlier in the day.
McCarthy dismissed the threat by saying, “I’m focused on doing the work that has to be done,” adding that there was “no side deal” on Ukraine and mentioning that he hasn’t spoken to Biden.
Only twice in the past century have Republican speakers been defeated using the strong and uncommon procedural device known as a move to vacate. Conservatives have, however, used the motion as a weapon against their leaders in recent years.
In January, McCarthy promised to give as few as five Republican members the option to launch a vote to remove him in an effort to placate some on the extreme right, like Gaetz, as he fought for their support for a speaker.
But when his detractors said it wasn’t good enough, he agreed to lower the bar to one, which historically has been the standard.