It’s official: Gaetz to force vote on McCarthy’s speakership

It’s official: Gaetz to force vote on McCarthy’s speakership

Kevin McCarthy is officially facing the test that’s plagued his entire speakership: conservatives forcing a vote to oust him.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) on Monday night filed a formal motion to eject the speaker, a maneuver last attempted in 1910 and never successfully completed. The House must act by Wednesday on the matter — and while McCarthy may yet survive depending on how Democrats vote, even a failed challenge to his speakership weakens him going forward.

It’s far from clear that Gaetz has the votes to depose McCarthy, as the Floridian himself acknowledged to reporters after making his move. Only three colleagues, Reps. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Bob Good (R-Va.), are openly supportive of his effort. But a handful of other House Republicans frustrated with the speaker are seen as persuadable on the matter of his future.

Among those potential GOP swing votes: Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) and Dan Bishop (R-N.C.).

“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 serving at the pleasure of Democrats,” Gaetz said, referring to the near-certain likelihood that Democratic votes will be required in order to keep McCarthy’s hold on the top gavel.

“I’ve made peace with either result,” Gaetz added.

Several leading conservatives, including influential players in the hard-right Freedom Caucus, are either openly against Gaetz’s ouster push or leaning that way. On the high-profile Rules Committe, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) is publicly against booting McCarthy, while Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) suggested on Monday that he was dubious.

“We’ve got so many important things to do. To divert all the attention on that — I think the American people don’t care who is speaker,” Norman said. He added that he had hoped Gaetz would “hold off” on his push in order to give Republicans more time to pass spending bills that the Senate is certain to reject.

Another Freedom Caucus member and occasional Gaetz rival, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), also indicated skepticism: “I just don’t think we should be engaging in that at all right now,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Democratic leaders have stayed quiet so far about their own approach to the McCarthy ouster vote, waiting for Gaetz to make good on his promise to come after the speaker. Now that the gambit has become official, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) will have to decide whether to push his members — particularly centrists who might be tempted to bail out McCarthy — to withhold their votes.

McCarthy’s allies fumed at the headline-grabbing display Gaetz has mounted over the past several days as he ramped up his threats against the speaker. That talk culminated in Gaetz’s Sunday vow to force the vote after McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to pass a shutdown-averting spending deal.

“It was a show,” swing-seat Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) said of Gaetz’s maneuvering as he left the Capitol on Monday night.

Another vocal McCarthy supporter, Problem Solvers Caucus co-chair Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), said he would support “several” rules changes in response to Gaetz’s move, including a rollback of the power for any one Republican to force a vote on ejecting the speaker.

Gaetz alluded to the intensity of the pushback he’s facing within the party for taking aim at McCarthy. Asked if he was prepared for hardball tactics as he pursues an ouster push that he’s vowed to mount repeatedly, Gaetz alluded to an ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation that stems from a now-closed Justice Department inquiry into his involvement with alleged sex trafficking.

“I believe that Speaker McCarthy is trying to signal to the ethics committee to pursue me,” Gaetz told reporters. “I’m built for the battle. I’ve faced down tougher than these folks and I’ll do it again.”

Empowering a single lawmaker to make that move, as Gaetz has now done, was among the concessions McCarthy gave to conservatives at the start of the year as he hustled to lock down the votes he needed to become speaker.

Sarah Ferris and Nicholas Wu contributed.

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