Tuesday, February 27

Rep. Matt Gaetz moves to oust Kevin McCarthy as House speaker

Hard-right Republicans are making good on a threat to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as Rep. Matt Gaetz moved to oust him on Monday.

The motion came two days after McCarthy relied heavily on the votes of House Democrats on Saturday to pass a bill to extend government funding for 45 days to avert a shutdown. In fact, the measure had more Democrats supporting it than Republicans, with 90 GOP members voting against it, and just one Democrat opposing it.

“Declaring the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives to be vacant,” Gaetz said on the House floor Monday night, announcing his resolution. 

McCarthy confident he can survive ouster attempt

Since Gaetz announced his motion to vacate on the House floor, it is a privileged resolution, which means a vote on the matter must take place within two legislative days under House rules, though it could be tabled. 

“Bring it on,” McCarthy posted on social media after the resolution was introduced. 

Gaetz has taunted McCarthy with the effort to remove him from the speakership for days.

“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. 

In a floor speech earlier Monday, Gaetz criticized an alleged “secret side deal” between McCarthy and President Biden on Ukraine. Gaetz is vehemently opposed to the U.S. providing more aid to Ukraine, while McCarthy has said he supports it. 

“It is becoming increasingly clear who the speaker of the House already works for and it’s not the Republican conference,” Gaetz said, demanding answers from McCarthy. 

“Members of the Republican Party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us about his secret side deal with Joe Biden on Ukraine.” 

In an interview with “Face the Nation” Sunday, the California Republican was confident that he’ll keep his job, saying Gaetz’s objection to him as speaker is “personal.”

“I’ll survive,” he said. “Let’s get over with it. Let’s start governing. If he’s upset because he tried to push us into a shutdown, and I made sure government didn’t shut down, then let’s have that talk.”

How would McCarthy be removed? 

Thanks to a deal McCarthy cut in January to become speaker (which still took 15 ballots), a single member of the House may force a vote to oust him. The ability of a single House lawmaker to force a vote was a key sticking point for some of the Republicans who opposed McCarthy’s bid for speaker. 

However, their insistence on changing the rule only restored it to what it had been before Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California was elected speaker in 2019. Under Pelosi, a motion to vacate could be offered on the House floor only if a majority of either party agreed to it. Before that rule change, a single member could move for a vote to unseat the speaker.

But there is no clear successor to McCarthy yet, even if his detractors succeed in ousting him. Republicans hold a slim majority in the lower chamber, and will likely struggle to find a House Republican who can satisfy both the right-wing and moderate members of the party. 

Gaetz would need a simple majority to oust McCarthy, meaning he would likely need Democrats to vote with him. At least one has said she would.

“Would I cast that vote? Absolutely. Absolutely,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “I think Kevin McCarthy is a very weak speaker. He clearly has lost control of his caucus.”

In voting for speaker of the House, the vast majority of lawmakers support someone from their own party, so it would not be surprising if more Democrats supported Gaetz’s motion. 

But Gaetz told CNN on Sunday he has “enough” Republican votes that McCarthy could soon be “serving at the pleasure of the Democrats” if he remains speaker, suggesting that some Democrats might vote to keep McCarthy in place, in favor of a farther right candidate. 

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Pennsylvania on the moderate House Problem Solvers Caucus, criticized the attempt to oust McCarthy. 

“Are we going to reward bipartisan bills being put on the floor or are we going to punish them? That is a choice,” Fitzpatrick told “Face the Nation” on Sunday, saying he would vote to table any such effort. “I don’t think that sends the right message. What we need to do is encourage bipartisanship.” 

If Gaetz continues to bring a motion to vacate, Fitzpatrick said the rules should be changed. 

“This cannot be the trajectory for the remainder of the Congress — 90%-plus of the American public does not want us to be voting on a motion to vacate every day for the rest of the term,” he said. 

Gaetz told reporters Monday he would keep trying to oust McCarthy if the first vote fails.

“It took Speaker McCarthy 15 votes to become the speaker,” Gaetz said, referring to the long path McCarthy took in January to become speaker. “So until I get to 14 or 15, I don’t think I’m being any more dilatory than he was.” 

History of motions to vacate 

There have only been two motions to vacate the chair, and neither resulted in the removal of the speaker.

The last time the House saw a motion to vacate the chair was in 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows filed a motion to vacate against then-House Speaker John Boehner. But Meadows did not file his motion to vacate the chair as a privileged resolution, so it was referred to the Rules Committee, and no action was taken on it. Still, within two months, Boehner resigned. 

Before that, the only other motion to vacate occurred in 1910, when Republican House Speaker Joe Cannon himself invited a vote on his ouster. In reaction to a vote that had just resulted in his removal from the chairmanship of the House Rules Committee, Cannon challenged the coalition of Democrats and Republican Progressives who had voted against him to introduce a motion to vacate the chair.

“The speaker will at this moment, or at any other time while he remains speaker, entertain, in conformity with the highest constitutional privilege, a motion by any member to vacate the office of the speakership and choose a new speaker,” Cannon said. “And, under existing conditions would welcome such action upon the part of the actual majority of the House, so that power and responsibility may rest with the Democratic and insurgent members who, by the last vote, evidently constitute a majority of this House. The chair is now ready to entertain such motion.”

Rep. Albert Burleson, Democrat of Texas, obliged and introduced a motion to vacate that was easily defeated. Cannon remained speaker for another year, until he lost his seat in the 1912 election. 



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