Rep. Matt Gaetz finally pulled the trigger.
As he’d promised, the Florida Republican moved to topple House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Monday evening, using a parliamentary maneuver that has not been officially invoked for over a century.
McCarthy “doesn’t have my support anymore, and he doesn’t have the support of a requisite number of Republicans to continue as the Republican Speaker,” Gaetz said during a mobbed press conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol afterwards.
Known as a motion to vacate the chair, the one-page resolution Gaetz filed will force an up-or-down vote on McCarthy’s speakership within two days. In public, the GOP leader has sought to appear unbowed. “Bring it on,” he tweeted Monday.
But whether McCarthy can muster enough support to survive the challenge remains murky, at best: A CNN tally indicated at least five House Republicans were supportive of Gaetz’s effort — enough to strip McCarthy of his gavel if all Democrats also line up against him. Over a dozen other Republicans were at least open to deposing McCarthy. “He’s done nothing, that’s my problem,” Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ill., said, adding she’s undecided.
Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, which has frequently tussled with the speaker, told Semafor that conservatives like him were blindsided by McCarthy’s last-ditch maneuver during last week’s budget fight to pass a short-term funding bill with the help of Democratic votes. “I just don’t know right now,” he said.
There’s been heated speculation about whether House Democrats might lend McCarthy their support in exchange for concessions on issues like Ukraine funding, but by Tuesday morning that possibility had begun to look doubtful.
Asked about the potential for a bargain, McCarthy told CNBC Tuesday morning that Democrats “haven’t asked for anything and I’m not going to provide anything,” before suggesting Democrats should back him based on “what’s good for government.”
That message didn’t appear to satisfy Democrats who met for a Tuesday morning caucus meeting. During it, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reportedly told his members they should vote to boot McCarthy, who has angered Democrats by pursuing an impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden and trying to reneg on spending levels agreed to as part of this year’s debt ceiling deal.
“I think he’s likely the most unprincipled person who’s ever been speaker of the House,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va. told reporters. Late in the morning, Democrats released a wave of official statements criticizing the speaker, including some from key moderates whose support McCarthy would likely need.
“You are only as good as your word — and time and again, Speaker McCarthy has proven that he is not a man of his word,” New Democrat Coalition Chair Annie Kuster said. “He is simply not trustworthy.” Blue Dogs Coalition Co-Chair Rep. Jared Golden said that “Absent any significantly meaningful benefit for Maine’s Second District, I see no reason to vote for him.”
Motions to vacate have loomed large over the House’s internal politics in recent years, despite being historically rare events. Conservatives wielded the threat of a snap vote to force out Speaker John Boehner in 2015, for instance.
But the last instance such a motion actually reached the House floor was in 1910, when Speaker Joseph Cannon filed one against himself as a test of his own support. (He won the vote, and by “calling the bluff of his detractors, Cannon was able to put them on the record and end the threats against him,” the AP notes.)
McCarthy allies argue that Gaetz’s effort is a short-sighted, self-destructive gambit that will distract the House GOP from approving more appropriations bills and sending them to the Senate by the Nov. 17 funding deadline.
“We’re in the middle of appropriations. I think it’s premature,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., told reporters on Monday evening. “There is no long train of abuses at the moment. There’s a long train of suspicion and mistrust.”
Other conservatives, including some members of the Freedom Caucus who’ve sought to work with McCarthy in recent weeks, agreed. “My position is let’s get the appropriations bills done,” Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tx, told Semafor. “I personally wouldn’t be going down the road right now.”
Gaetz’s attempt to bring down McCarthy follows months of mounting tensions between the two men that have often seemed as much rooted in personal animosity as policy disagreements. Their clash came to a head during last week’s government funding showdown, during which Gaetz repeatedly helped vote down party-line bills backed by GOP leadership, including a short-term spending patch that would have kept Washington running in return for new border security spending.
Ultimately, McCarthy chose to pass a clean 45-day spending bill with support from Democrats, which Gaetz is now citing as one major reason he is now attempting to oust the speaker.
Earlier on Monday, Gaetz accused McCarthy of lying to rank-and-file Republicans and cutting a “secret deal” with Democrats to provide further assistance to Ukraine, which conservatives staunchly oppose, in return for backing the stopgap spending measure.
“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,” the Florida Republican said in a floor speech.