Rep. Matt Gaetz files motion to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy, throwing House into new turmoil

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to Attorney General Merrick Garland as he appears before a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing an extraordinary referendum on his leadership of the House after a conservative member of his own Republican majority, a longtime critic, moved to launch a vote to oust him from the helm.

Late Monday, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., rose in the chamber as the House was almost done for the day to file the motion — a resolution that would set a snap vote in coming days that even Gaetz acknowledged may not have enough support to remove the speaker from the job.


“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,” Gaetz told reporters afterward outside the Capitol.

McCarthy responded minutes later on social media, “Bring it on.”

Gaetz soon retorted in a post, “Just did.”

It’s a historic moment: the first time in more than 100 years that a lawmaker actually moved to force a vote using the legislative tool that has been threatened against other House speakers, including in 2015, but never fully employed to try to remove them.

The bold strike to confront McCarthy carries potentially dire ramifications if enough lawmakers decide to remove his hold on the gavel, but also for Gaetz if it fizzles out.

It also puts on stark display the warring factions that have roiled the Republican majority this year in the House and beyond.

So far, despite the deep divides over McCarthy’s leadership, only a handful of hard-right Republicans have signaled they are willing to vote to remove him. Others who have aligned with Gaetz on spending cuts or other priorities are parting ways with him on this one.

“It’s a really bad idea,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., one of the more conservative lawmakers in the House.

Gaetz has for months threatened to use the procedural tool — called a motion to vacate — to try to strip McCarthy of his office. Those threats escalated over the weekend after McCarthy relied on Democrats to provide the necessary votes to fund the government.

That decision has set McCarthy up for what will likely be the ultimate test of his leadership and may force him to again look across the aisle to Democrats for support.

But how the vote will ultimately unfold remains unclear as Democrats weigh whether to help McCarthy, join the effort to oust him or simply withhold their votes or rely on parliamentary maneuvering that could sway the outcome.

“Do we side with a sociopath or an incompetent?” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., a progressive leader. “I don’t know?”

And allies of McCarthy have said for weeks they were ready for a motion to come.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said he has spoken privately to some Democrats who have told him they would vote to help McCarthy remain in office. “I’m sure Mr. Gaetz will have some allies who will go with him. But I don’t see enough.”

The vote ahead could result in humiliation — the first speaker ever ousted from the job through such a motion — or newfound strength as he overcomes yet another obstacle while trying to lead a narrow, unwieldy majority.

Conservative critics have been hounding McCarthy from the start, denying him votes and thwarting his plans. But McCarthy has leaned into the fight and suggested it’s an opportunity to set aside his critics once and for all.

Gaetz acknowledged the effort is likely to fail. He responded to questions about what he hoped to accomplish by saying Americans need to know who’s in charge.

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