Far-right Republican seeks to oust McCarthy after bill to avoid government shutdown

US House speaker tells Florida lawmaker Matt Gaetz to ‘bring it on,’ after Gaetz accuses him of violating pledges he made in January to secure enough GOP support for speakership

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, walks to the House chamber, at the US Capitol, in Washington, September 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, walks to the House chamber, at the US Capitol, in Washington, September 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US Representative Matt Gaetz said Sunday that he would try to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Republican, from his leadership position this week, after McCarthy relied on Democratic support to pass legislation that avoided a government shutdown. “Bring it on,” McCarthy responded.

Gaetz, a longtime McCarthy nemesis, said in broadcast interviews that McCarthy was in “brazen, material breach” of agreements he made with House Republicans in January when he ran for speaker. As a result, Gaetz said he would be filing a “motion to vacate the chair,” as House rules permit.

McCarthy’s response: “So be it. Bring it on. Let’s get over with it and let’s start governing.”

No speaker has ever been removed from office through such a move. Procedural votes could be offered to halt the motion or it could trigger a House floor vote on whether McCarthy, a California Republican, should remain speaker.

“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid,” said Gaetz, a Florida Republican. “I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy.”

Republicans just ended a tumultuous week in which the US Congress flirted with a government closure and the majority party in the House could not even pass its own bill in an effort to avoid a shutdown. GOP lawmakers complained the House waited too long to take up annual spending bills, squandering an opportunity to force the Senate to negotiate on spending and policy priorities.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, joined by Majority Whip Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican, holds a news conference just after the House approved a 45-day funding bill to keep federal agencies open, at the US Capitol, in Washington, September 30, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

McCarthy has continually tried to placate the conservative wing and on Friday, he brought a short-term plan to fund the government while enacting steep spending cuts of nearly 30 percent for many agencies and strict border security provisions. But that was deemed insufficient by some Republicans, and 21 joined with every Democrat in voting against the package.

McCarthy pivoted on Saturday to a bill that would draw Democratic support. It keeps agencies funded at current levels into mid-November and provides $16 billion in disaster relief for states and communities dealing with hurricanes and other natural disasters. Democrats jumped at the chance to keep the government open and both chambers passed the bill by overwhelming margins.

Gaetz had threatened to file his ouster motion if McCarthy worked with Democrats and he said the spending package blew past spending guardrails that McCarthy had agreed to in his bid to become speaker.

McCarthy has the support of a large majority of House Republicans, but because the GOP holds such a slim 221-212 majority, he may need votes from some Democrats to keep his job. When asked how many Republicans he had on board, Gaetz said he had enough to ensure that if McCarthy retains the speakership he would “be serving at the pleasure of the Democrats.”

“The only way Kevin McCarthy is speaker of the House at the end of this coming week is if Democrats bail him out,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz’s tactics have generated considerable scorn from many House Republicans. Representative Mike Lawler, a New York Republican, spoke of the Florida representative’s “diatribe of delusional thinking” and said Gaetz was acting for “personal, political reasons.”

Still, McCarthy is unpopular with some within his party. That was on display in January, when it took 15 rounds of voting to gain the support he needed within his conference to become speaker.

This image from US Senate video shows the vote total, 88-9, on a temporary funding bill in the Senate at the US Capitol in Washington, September 30, 2023. (Senate Television via AP)

The rules of the House allow for any single lawmaker — Democrat or Republican — to make a “motion to vacate the chair,” essentially an attempt to oust the speaker from that leadership post through a privileged resolution.

In January, as he ran for speaker, McCarthy agreed to give as few as five Republican members the ability to initiate a vote to remove him. But when that was not good enough for his critics, he reduced that threshold to one — the system that historically has been the norm.

Proponents of allowing a lone lawmaker to file the motion said it promotes accountability, noting its long history in the House. The last use of the motion was in 2015, when then-representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a Republican who later became US president Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff, introduced a resolution to declare the speaker’s office vacant. Two months later, Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said he would be stepping down.

McCarthy expressed optimism Sunday that Gaetz would fail and noted that Gaetz has been after him since he ran for speaker.

“Yes, I’ll survive,” McCarthy said.

Gaetz appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and ABC’s “This Week,” while McCarthy was on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Lawler was on ABC.

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