Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing an extraordinary referendum on his leadership of the House of Representatives after a conservative member of his own conference, a longtime critic, moved to trigger a vote on whether he should remain at the helm.
“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," GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz told reporters after he filed the motion. "I’m at peace with either result because the American people deserve to know who governs them.”
McCarthy responded minutes later on social media, “Bring it on.”
The far-right Republican from Florida 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 look across the aisle to Democrats for support. But how the vote will unfold remains unclear, as possible parliamentary maneuvering could sway the outcome. And allies of McCarthy have said for weeks they were ready for a motion to come.
The vote 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 him from the start, denying him votes and thwarting his plans. But McCarthy has recently welcomed the effort to oust him and suggested it’s an opportunity to silence his critics once and for all.
Gaetz acknowledged the effort is likely to fail. He responded to questions about what he hoped to accomplish with the remark that Americans need to know who's in charge.
In a speech on the House floor earlier in the day, Gaetz demanded McCarthy disclose the details of a supposed deal the speaker made with the White House to bring forward legislation to help fund the war in Ukraine during funding negotiations.
Brushing off the threat, McCarthy told reporters earlier at the Capitol, “I’m focused on doing the work that has to be done.” He added that there was “no side deal” on Ukraine, noting he has not spoken to Biden.
A motion to vacate is a rare and strong procedural tool that has only been used twice in the past century against Republican speakers. But in recent years, conservatives have wielded the motion as a weapon against their leaders.
In January, McCarthy, hoping to appease some on the hard right like Gaetz as he fought to gain their vote for speaker, agreed to give as few as five Republican members the ability to initiate a vote to remove him. But when that wasn’t good enough for his critics, he agreed to reduce that threshold to one — the system that historically has been the norm.
The motion Gaetz introduced is a privileged resolution, a designation that gives it priority over other measures. The next step is for House leaders to schedule a vote on the resolution within two legislative days.
However, there are several procedural motions that members of either party could introduce to slow down or stop the process altogether. If those tactics were to fail, and his resolution came to the floor for a vote, it would take a simple majority of the House — 218 votes, when no seats are vacant — to remove McCarthy from his post.