Gaetz’s GOP support could put McCarthy Speakership in Democrats’ hands

Fresh off averting a government shutdown, House members on both sides of the aisle are being thrust into the second historic Speakership battle in a year — forcing Democrats to confront a big political decision.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) moved Monday to force a vote on ousting Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), largely based on the handling of a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open Saturday.

It marks just the third attempt in House history to remove a sitting Speaker — following an unsuccessful move against Speaker Joseph Cannon (R-Ill.) in 1910 and one against Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2015 that was also unsuccessful, but contributed to his later resignation.

At least four House Republicans said they will support or are leaning in favor of the “motion to vacate.” In the slim House majority, just a handful of Republican lawmakers could be enough to push the Speaker out — largely depending on how Democrats vote.

That means where Democrats stand is the wild card that could determine whether McCarthy holds on to the gavel or becomes the first Speaker to be voted out.

Hard-liners split on McCarthy

Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) and Bob Good (R-Va.) said Monday that they would support Gaetz’s move.

“I said repeatedly in January that we cannot repeat the failures of the past where when Republicans have majority control, that we pass our major spending bills with predominantly Democrat votes,” Good said. “For the Speaker to totally surrender and capitulate on Saturday to pass an unconditional CR with 209 Democrat votes and all votes in the Senate was a bad deal for the American people.”

Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said that he was “praying about it,” but that his conscience was telling him to vote to oust McCarthy. He later said on CNN he would support Gaetz’s move if it was right now, and did not see that changing over the next two days.

That number could tick up, as other possible supporters of removing McCarthy have not expressly articulated their positions.

Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) expressed support for McCarthy’s ouster earlier this year, but declined to comment Monday. And Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), who never voted in favor of McCarthy in January’s 15-ballot Speaker election, said he would consider it.

But other hard-line conservatives who were part of the group of 20 members who withheld support for McCarthy in January are supporting the Speaker.

Reps. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) and Chip Roy (R-Texas) both voiced opposition to the move on Sean Hannity’s radio show Monday.

“I think it’s a major distraction. It’s going to take all of the focus away from appropriations,” Donalds said.

Gaetz has cited lack of movement on full-year appropriations bills as a chief reason to remove McCarthy. 

The move to oust McCarthy also raises questions about who his opponents would accept to replace him. Gaetz on Monday brought up the No. 2 House Republican, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August.

“It is awkward to talk about names until we understand how Mr. Scalise comes out of his treatment for blood cancer,” Gaetz said. “I am not the type of person that just says you blow by somebody because they’re getting a medical treatment.”

Scalise, though, posted on social media Monday in support of McCarthy, as did House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and a swath of other McCarthy allies.

“We have a lot of work to do. Now is not the time for distractions,” Scalise said. 

Big decision for Democrats

Depending on absences, just five GOP votes in favor of booting McCarthy as Speaker could put the onus on Democrats.

House Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) sent a letter to House Democrats on Sunday informing members that, if a motion to vacate is offered against McCarthy, the group “will have a Caucus wide discussion on how to address the motion to best meet the needs of the American people.”

House Democrats are scheduled to huddle during their weekly caucus meeting Tuesday morning.

Democrats could allow McCarthy to remain in the Speakership without directly voting for him by voting “present” — or not at all.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has been coy about the caucus’s plans for a potential motion to vacate, brushing aside questions as hypotheticals and insisting that the group will “cross that bridge” when it gets there.

“We’re focused on doing the business of the American people,” Jeffries told reporters Monday, shortly before Gaetz moved to force a vote on McCarthy’s ouster.

The importance of Democrats has prompted speculation that McCarthy could offer something to lawmakers across the aisle — such as an adjustment in committee assignment ratios or increasing the threshold to force a motion to vacate — in order to secure their support.

One House Democrat said that the price for Democrats to save McCarthy — who just a month ago launched an impeachment inquiry into President Biden — is “not cheap.”

McCarthy said Monday that he has not talked to Jeffries about what to do about the motion to vacate. But he did not directly answer a question about whether he would cut a deal with Democrats to save his Speakership.

“I think this is about the institution. I think it’s too important,” McCarthy said.

Democrats, for their part, have been all over the map publicly.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-N.Y.) — whom McCarthy booted from the Intelligence Committee — told reporters Monday, “I prefer someone who has some level of trust, and he has none with our caucus and he has none within his own caucus.” He signaled that he will follow Jeffries’s lead, adding, “the Republicans really need to figure out how to clean up their own mess.”

“The one thing Democrats and Republicans have in common vis-a-vis the Speaker is none of us trust him to do the right thing or to keep his word,” Schiff added.

Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-N.H.), the chairwoman of the center-left New Democrat coalition, said “it would be a heavy lift” for Democrats to save McCarthy. She pointed to McCarthy waiting until the last minute to fund the government, his breach of the debt limit deal he struck with Biden and launching the impeachment inquiry into the president.

And Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), an appropriator, told Fox News over the weekend that he will likely vote “present,” noting that McCarthy made a “sensible” decision to bring a “clean” continuing resolution to the floor.

“I would not take a position on that. I probably would vote ‘present,’” Cartwright said. “This is not about the Democratic caucus, it’s about the Republican conference, and them choosing their leader. If they really want to throw out Kevin McCarthy for doing what I think is the sensible thing, I kind of regret that, but that’s their business.”

Gaetz welcomed Democrats to save McCarthy if that is what they want.

“If the Democrats want to own Kevin McCarthy, they can have it,” Gaetz said Monday night. “Because one thing I’m at peace with is when we stand here a week from now, I won’t own Kevin McCarthy anymore. He won’t belong to me.”

“So if the Democrats want to adopt him, they can adopt him,” he added.

What happens next

Since Gaetz raised a question of privilege to consider his resolution ousting McCarthy on Monday, the House now has two legislative days to consider it on the floor.

But leadership has a number of ways to stymie the effort. Those include a motion to table the resolution or refer it to committee, procedural votes that could prevent the chamber from having to weigh in on McCarthy’s Speakership directly.

If none of those efforts are successful, the House would then debate the resolution.

Personal animosity

McCarthy has said several times that Gaetz’s campaign against him is “personal,” noting the Florida congressman, whom the Justice Department declined to charge after a lengthy sex-trafficking investigation, is facing another investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

“Anytime that somebody has an ethics complaint and they can’t get the way they want about it, they want to roll up, and one side is going to park with five people and decide that, I don’t think that’s good for the House,” McCarthy said Monday.

CNN host Jake Tapper asked Gaetz on Sunday how much of his move against McCarthy was personal, and a response to the ethics investigation — saying that he had seen “personal communications” between Gaetz and others in which Gaetz blamed McCarthy for the ethics investigation. 

Gaetz said the ethics investigation has nothing to do with his decision but indicated that he thinks McCarthy influenced the investigation.

“It seems that the Ethics Committee is interested in me waxes and wanes based on my relationship with the Speaker,” Gaetz told reporters Monday.

But even if the first attempt to boot McCarthy fails, Gaetz said there will be plenty more to come.

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

McCarthy, for his part, is projecting confidence.

“Bring it on,” he wrote Monday night on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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