Washington, D.C. – October3, 2023
In a startling development that adds another layer of unpredictability to an already tumultuous Congress, far-right Republican Representative Matt Gaetz has taken steps to remove fellow Republican Kevin McCarthy from his position as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Gaetz, who has been in a protracted feud with McCarthy for several months, introduced a “motion to vacate,” which, if successful, would necessitate a vote to dethrone McCarthy as the House Speaker. This move came moments before Gaetz held an impromptu press conference in which he openly acknowledged that the initial attempt might not succeed.
“I think that’s the likely outcome,” Gaetz admitted. However, he left room for the possibility of multiple attempts, stating that support for McCarthy’s removal could grow, making the initial vote just the beginning rather than the end of his efforts.
When asked about his preference for a potential replacement for McCarthy, Gaetz mentioned his high regard for Steve Scalise, the current House Majority Leader, who holds the second-ranking position in the chamber. Gaetz indicated that he would cast his vote in favor of Scalise or any other suitable Republican candidate.
Currently, Republicans hold a slim majority in the chamber, with a vote count of 221-212. It would take just a handful of defections, as few as five, to challenge McCarthy’s grip on power, assuming all Democrats voted against him.
The rift between Gaetz and McCarthy escalated when McCarthy sought Democratic support to pass a temporary funding extension, averting a partial government shutdown. Approximately 20 Republicans, including Gaetz, had repeatedly blocked other legislative measures, forcing McCarthy’s hand to rely on Democrats.
McCarthy responded to Gaetz’s leadership challenge by calling it disruptive and expressing confidence in his ability to withstand it. “Bring it on,” McCarthy declared on social media.
Gaetz was part of a group of more than a dozen far-right Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy’s bid for Speaker earlier this year. McCarthy eventually secured the position after 15 rounds of voting. As part of the agreement that led to McCarthy’s victory, a rule change was implemented allowing any member to call for a vote to remove the Speaker, setting the stage for Gaetz’s recent action.
Notably, no Speaker of the U.S. House has ever been removed from their position, making Gaetz’s move a historically significant endeavor.
The response from Democrats remains uncertain. Several House Democrats have indicated that they are awaiting direction from their party leader, Hakeem Jeffries. Representative Ann Kuster, Chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, suggested that supporting McCarthy as Speaker would be challenging due to a loss of trust stemming from broken agreements and an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden, launched without concrete evidence of wrongdoing.
Democrats are also irked by McCarthy’s haste in passing the stopgap spending bill before Saturday’s vote, even though he required their support. In response, they could demand that McCarthy honor his spending deal with President Biden, drop the impeachment inquiry, or hold votes on gun control and immigration legislation.
Hakeem Jeffries has yet to confirm whether his caucus will join forces with right-wing Republicans to topple McCarthy or if Democrats might support McCarthy in exchange for political or legislative concessions.
The White House has characterized House Republicans as unreliable and extreme during the recent spending negotiations. The stopgap bill passed on Saturday lacked $6 billion in aid for Ukraine, a priority for Democrats and many Senate Republicans, but opposed by conservative House Republicans like Gaetz.
The approval of this funding remains uncertain. On the House floor, Gaetz accused McCarthy of a “secret side deal” with Democrats regarding Ukraine aid, an allegation McCarthy denied, emphasizing the need for greater clarity on how the funds would be allocated.
With the deadline for passing spending legislation for the current fiscal year approaching on November 17, Congress faces the challenge of reaching an agreement or enacting another stopgap measure to avoid a government shutdown.