Gaetz files motion to oust McCarthy as House speaker
WASHINGTON - Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced a resolution Monday evening to remove Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his seat, triggering an expected intraparty clash and setting up a showdown for the House to decide whether to depose McCarthy within 48 hours.
Gaetz, R-Fla., and a handful of hard-right Republicans have repeatedly threatened to go after McCarthy's speakership if he relied on Democratic votes to pass any spending legislation, which happened Saturday after McCarthy, R-Calif., could not get a majority of Republicans to support various proposals to fund the government with only GOP votes. Using a motion to vacate, a single person can force the House to consider removing the speaker. McCarthy agreed to lowering the threshold for bringing the motion to win over enough support to become speaker in January.
The effort to depose McCarthy as speaker has alarmed many House Republicans, setting up an internal civil war between McCarthy's allies and those who have pressured him repeatedly with a variety of, at times unrealistic, demands. The effort could also force McCarthy and his allies to strategize with Democrats, further irritating the hard-right, because the minority party will play a determinative role in whether McCarthy can hold onto his leadership seat.
In a speech Monday morning, Gaetz accused McCarthy of making a "secret Ukraine side deal" with Democrats to get a short-term funding bill passed to avert a government shutdown.
"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," Gaetz said. "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."
House Democrats have begun to discuss how they would handle a potential challenge to McCarthy's speakership, but all factions of the caucus - from the most willing to side with Republicans to liberals - have said they are not seriously entertaining bailing him out until he asks for it and agrees to several concessions.
Minority Whip Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., declined to speculate what posture Democrats would take on a possible vote, suggesting there was still too much unknown.
"We'll just have to wait and see how this civil war plays out," she said.
McCarthy denied having any side deals with Democrats in return for their votes to help fund the government. He reiterated that behind closed doors to a small group of lawmakers across the ideological spectrum who meet every week in the speaker's suite, according to two people familiar with the meeting who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
"There's not a secret plan," McCarthy told reporters. "[Gaetz] says a lot of things."
Back on Capitol Hill for the first time since Saturday's drama, Republicans across the conference made clear they would rather focus on passing full-year appropriation bills over the next month than voting on repeated attempts by Gaetz to oust McCarthy.
"We have to figure out how we're going to fund the government for another 11 months now, and we have to secure this border," said Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., a member of the House Freedom Caucus who has at times been critical of McCarthy. "That needs to be the primary focus of our conference."
Gaetz did not move on his motion to vacate in a speech on the House floor earlier Monday, in part because it is not permissible to do so during a session called "morning hours," according to House rules. But the Florida Republican said McCarthy would need to answer the questions he laid out during his speech or "there may be other votes coming today or later this week" - a not-so-subtle threat.
In response, Rep. Earl L. "Buddy" Carter, R-Ga., scoffed while sitting on the House floor.
It's not clear whether Gaetz has the crucial 218 votes needed to remove McCarthy without himself relying on Democrats to vote with the small handful of Republicans who would support ousting the speaker. Asked whether he had more than four Republicans who would vote to oust McCarthy, Gaetz said, "Well, we'll see."
A person familiar with some hard-right members' thinking said at least seven Republicans would support Gaetz's motion, but a dozen more have expressed some grievances about McCarthy.
Several Republicans who had vowed to oppose any short-term funding bill remained mum on whether they would support McCarthy's removal. Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., told reporters Monday he supported Gaetz and blamed McCarthy for advancing a deal that left in place funding levels Democrats set last year. Rep. Wesley Hunt, R-Texas, is keeping "an open mind."
"Favorably disposed," Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said about the effort to expel McCarthy from his speaker office.
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., who opposed last week's funding deal but supported McCarthy for speaker in January, said he has been praying over the decision. His heart is telling him to stick with "my friend" McCarthy, but his conscience is counseling a different vote.
"My conscience is telling me to vote him out," he told reporters.
The motion to vacate did not come up during the weekly meeting in McCarthy's office among McCarthy allies and other conservatives, except when Donalds flagged for the group that members of the Freedom Caucus were having those conversations. Instead, the group in McCarthy's office spoke about its promise to pass all remaining eight full-year funding bills to the Senate this month.
As he left McCarthy's office Monday evening, Rep. Dusty Johnson. R-S.D., who chairs the conservative Republican Main Street Caucus, confidently predicted that McCarthy would be the speaker at "the end of the week ... at the end of the month ... at the end of the year."
"I've talked to a lot of Republican members, and there are more people buying Kevin McCarthy stock than selling it," he said.
The disdain for Gaetz is so palpable across much of the GOP conference that some members have begun to publicly rebuke him as self-destructive and selfish. Some McCarthy allies have also discussed whether they could find enough support to raise the threshold needed for any future motions to vacate, according to two Republicans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to outline private ongoing discussions. Currently, only one lawmaker is needed to move forward.
Gaetz has pledged he would continue to bring up the motion to oust McCarthy as many times as it took for McCarthy to become speaker - 15 rounds.
"I don't think I'm being any more dilatory than he was," Gaetz said.
McCarthy allies believe that some Democrats could help prevent him from being successfully removed because bipartisan concern exists over the reality that a speakership election fight could drag on for days, blunting progress on passing full-year appropriation bills before government funding runs out in mid-November.
Rep. Tom McClintock, a GOP colleague of McCarthy's in the California delegation, spoke before Gaetz early Monday and directed his comments at him without mentioning his name. He stressed that a successful motion to vacate would only "paralyze the House indefinitely" until a new speaker is elected and would severely delay passing conservative funding bills.
"The supreme irony is that this is being initiated by self-described conservatives," McClintock said. "Do they honestly believe that when the Democrats side with them to remove a Republican speaker, that they will then side with them to name a more conservative replacement?"
Some Democrats have floated voting "present" during a motion to table Gaetz's potential resolution, which would lower the 218-vote threshold needed to pass. That path would allow Democrats to claim they did not ever vote in support of McCarthy for speaker since it would put the onus on Republicans to determine McCarthy's fate.
Some of the demands being floated among Democrats include funding the government at levels previously agreed to by McCarthy and President Joe Biden, the reallocation of the number of Democrats compared to Republicans on committees and a more equal percentage of earmarks in appropriations bills; Democrats said they have received a significantly lower percentage of earmarks than Republicans.
"I don't know, right now, what we should do or what we will do," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who had her staff brief her on the procedures for the complicated parliamentary process.
McCarthy said Monday that he has not asked Democrats for help to bail him out. "No, no, no, I haven't talked to Democrats," he said.
Drastic concessions to Democrats could mean asking McCarthy to skirt hard-line conservatives in his conference and form a coalition government where McCarthy governs to the center.
While staring straight at Gaetz on Monday morning, McClintock warned that a "coalition speaker will move the administration of the House sharply to the left and effectively end the Republican House majority that the people elected in 2022."
Asked whether his actions would truly paralyze the House GOP majority from governing in a conservative manner, Gaetz said the real chaos lies in how the speakership has thus far been run.
"You talk about chaos as if it's me forcing a few votes and filing a few motions. Real chaos is when the American people have to go through the austerity that is coming if we continue to have $2 trillion annual deficits," he said. "You don't know chaos until you've seen where this Congress, this uni-party is bringing us."
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