Matt Gaetz leads a major bid to oust Kevin McCarthy.
Tensions between the two Republican figures escalated over the weekend.
McCarthy collaborated with Democrats to pass a bill funding government agencies.
US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing a political battle for his position as a motion to remove him has been filed by a right-wing rebel, Matt Gaetz, in a rarely employed maneuver.
In response to Gaetz’s move, McCarthy took to social media and defiantly stated, “Bring it on.” Gaetz promptly retorted, “Just did.”
Tensions between the two Republican figures escalated over the weekend when McCarthy collaborated with Democrats to pass a bill funding government agencies.
Historically, no Speaker of the House has been removed through such a motion to vacate.
The House leadership has a two-day window to bring the motion to a vote, although procedural tactics could be used to block the process. To unseat the Speaker, a simple majority of the House is required, which amounts to 218 votes when all seats are occupied.
Republicans currently hold a narrow majority in the chamber, with a tally of 221-212.
However, only a small faction of hardline Republicans has indicated support for McCarthy’s removal. The Speaker holds significant influence as the second in line for the presidency after the Vice President.
They shape legislative priorities in the lower house of Congress, control committee assignments, and wield considerable power over the White House’s agenda.
The recent deal reached on Saturday to prevent a government shutdown excluded $6 billion in funding for Ukraine, a decision driven by Gaetz and other ultraconservatives who argue that the US has already allocated excessive funds for Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.
Gaetz has been wielding the threat of ousting McCarthy since January when he led a group of party rebels in opposing McCarthy’s bid for the speakership. This led to 15 rounds of voting before McCarthy secured the position.
During negotiations prior to McCarthy’s election, a rule change was agreed upon that allows any individual lawmaker to call for a vote to remove the Speaker, paving the way for the current motion to vacate.
Gaetz accused McCarthy of striking a secret deal with the White House to include new Ukraine funding in separate legislation in a House floor speech on Monday. McCarthy has denied any such agreement, stating there is “no side deal on Ukraine.”
After filing the motion, Gaetz told reporters, “Well, 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, and I’m at peace with either result because the American people deserve to know who governs them.”
Gaetz told, “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.”
Gaetz also indicated he would support Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise, currently the deputy to McCarthy, as a potential successor to the Speaker.
California Republican Tom McClintock criticized the “self-destructive course” of attempting to remove the Speaker in his remarks before Gaetz’s floor speech. Without naming Gaetz, McClintock urged his Republican colleagues to set aside their biases and local interests.
According to House rules, the Speaker is required to maintain a list of potential temporary replacements if the position becomes vacant. If McCarthy is removed, this list would be made public, and the individual at the top of it would serve as Speaker pro tempore until new leadership elections are held within the majority party in the House.
Democrats must now decide whether they will intervene and vote to help McCarthy retain his position.
While some Democrats are displeased with McCarthy for initiating a congressional inquiry into the potential impeachment of President Joe Biden, others like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested that Democrats might consider supporting McCarthy in exchange for concessions.
This rarely used procedural tool to remove a Speaker has only been deployed twice in the past century, and it has never succeeded.
The most recent attempt was in 2015 against Speaker John Boehner, which ultimately led to his resignation two months later due to mounting pressure. Prior to that, the last instance was in 1910.