Gaetz declares plan to remove House speaker

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) with Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Jan. 6 during McCarthy's efforts to win the House speakership. (MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said Sunday that he is determined to try to oust Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from his position as House speaker after McCarthy passed a stopgap measure to fund the government with Democratic support.

Gaetz said Sunday that he plans to introduce a motion to remove McCarthy from his leadership position, marking a dramatic escalation of the long-simmering tensions between the men. Gaetz did not say when he would introduce the motion. Once he does so, the House would have 48 hours to vote on the matter.

"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 said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

McCarthy's response was succinct and to the point: "So be it. Bring it on. Let's get over with it and let's start governing."

Hard-right obstructionists in the House GOP have made clear for weeks that McCarthy would be removed if he relied on Democrats to pass any funding legislation. The measure, called a motion to vacate, requires only one person to force the House to consider removing the speaker, a move that has never succeeded before.

Gaetz accused McCarthy of lying during the negotiations over the stopgap government funding talks, as well as lying to the Republican conference during the lengthy speakership fight in January that saw him going through 15 rounds of House votes before being elected speaker.

"Look, the one thing everybody has in common is that nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy," Gaetz said. "He lied to Biden, he lied to House conservatives. He had appropriators marking to a different number altogether."

McCarthy, Gaetz said, broke a promise made to hard-right conservatives during the House speakership fight that the chamber would move to pass individual spending bills. Gaetz also said McCarthy promised the conference 72 hours to read the bill, and that the budget would return to pre-covid spending levels. Neither of those things happened.

Gaetz had threatened to file his ouster motion if McCarthy worked with Democrats and he said the spending package blew past spending guardrails that McCarthy had agreed to previously.

"There is almost no promise he hasn't violated," Gaetz told ABC News' "This Week."

On Sunday morning, McCarthy was defiant when asked about Gaetz's potential effort to remove him from his seat.

"I'll survive. This is personal with Matt," he told CBS News' "Face the Nation." "If he's upset because he tried to push us in a shutdown and I made sure government didn't shut down, then let's have that fight."

On Saturday night, both the House and Senate passed a "continuing resolution" that keeps the government funded through Nov. 17 and includes disaster relief funds, an extension of a federal flood-insurance program and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, but did not include additional aid for Ukraine.

The bipartisan votes came only after McCarthy tried repeatedly to craft legislation that would attract enough House Republicans to pass the bill without Democrats by slashing spending. He fell short despite giving in to many of the demands of his most hard-line conservative members.

On Friday, he'd brought a short-term plan to fund the government that would enact steep spending cuts of nearly 30% for many agencies and strict border security provisions. But that was deemed insufficient by some Republicans, and 21 joined with every Democrat in voting against the package.

Gaetz was one of six Republicans who never supported McCarthy in his fight to take the House speaker's gavel in January, at the beginning of the new congressional term. Those six members eventually voted "present" in the 15th round of voting, lowering the threshold needed for McCarthy's victory.

But those Republicans and others on the far right have successfully blockaded efforts by the majority of House Republicans who have tried to govern under the constitutional constraints of having to pass bills with a Democratic-majority Senate and a Democratic president.

On Sunday morning, Rep. Michael Lawler, R-N.Y., one of the most vulnerable moderate Republicans in the conference, told "This Week" that Gaetz's decision is a "diatribe of delusional thinking." Lawler noted that while Gaetz is complaining about how slowly the House has moved to advance appropriations bills, the Florida Republican himself is one of the reasons the process has been so slow.

"By putting this motion to vacate on the floor, you know what Matt Gaetz is going to do? He's going to delay the ability to complete that work over the next 45 days," Lawler said. "And just like he and some of my colleagues did during the past three weeks, they delayed the process by voting down the rules, violating our conference rules. They delayed the process by refusing to come to an agreement within the conference."

Speaking to ABC News, Gaetz said he plans to file his motion to vacate over and over.

"I might not have him the first time, but I might have him before the 15th ballot," he said. "I will continue to pursue this objective."

The Florida Republican, however, said he did not have a replacement for McCarthy in mind.

A majority of the GOP conference still staunchly support McCarthy and would vote to keep him as House speaker. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., told Fox News on Sunday that Gaetz would need more than 200 Democrats to join him to remove McCarthy "because more than 200 Republicans are 100% behind Speaker McCarthy."

But with Republicans holding such a narrow majority in the House, if more than five hard-liners vote in favor of deposing McCarthy, Republicans will need Democrats to help overcome that margin. Their help, if it is ever given, likely would come at a significant price.

House Democrats are beginning to discuss how they would handle a potential challenge to McCarthy's speakership, as their participation -- or lack thereof -- will determine whether he remains as speaker of the House.

Multiple people familiar with the private conversations have said that no plan is final and that McCarthy's own last-minute scramble to force consideration of a clean short-term spending bill that averted a government shutdown has angered many Democrats.

While Gaetz is criticizing McCarthy over his decision to work with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, he would need Democratic support to oust McCarthy. Speaking to "This Week," however, Gaetz said he expects Democrats to protect him.

"If at this time next week, Kevin McCarthy is still speaker of the House, it will be because the Democrats bailed them out and he can be their speaker, not mine," Gaetz said.

Some Democrats on Sunday welcomed the idea of removing McCarthy. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said she would "absolutely" vote to end his speakership.

"I think Kevin McCarthy is a very weak speaker," she told CNN. "He clearly has lost control of his caucus ... It's not up to Democrats to save Republicans from themselves."

But she also left open the opportunity for negotiations, saying that if there is Democratic support for McCarthy, it would come at a price.

"You don't just vote for a Republican speaker for nothing. That's not what we were elected here to do," Ocasio-Cortez said.

Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., chair of the New Democratic Caucus, said in an interview that "the deep distrust for McCarthy in the caucus, the legislative record of his conference, and the baseless impeachment are reasons it would be a big lift for any House Democrat to vote to save him."

Separately, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., -- McCarthy's predecessor as House speaker -- said Gaetz's move against McCarthy "is just not about the budget, it's about a values debate."

"You're wasting your time on that guy because he has no sway in the House of Representatives except to get on TV and to raise money on the internet," Pelosi said Sunday on CNN.

McCarthy's ultimate decision to move past trying to appease hard-liners and listen to a pragmatic set of Republicans who suggested forgoing their colleagues' votes to instead rely on Democrats to fund the government was seen by some Republicans and Democrats as one way that the House could function moving forward.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-S.D., warned his fellow Republicans not to lose sight of what they've been working toward. He said that if McCarthy is ousted, that would eat up valuable time trying to fund the government for the entire year.

"We can either start Monday to pass a single-subject appropriations bill and secure the border, or we can start the circus," Armstrong said Saturday.

The rules of the House allow for any single lawmaker -- Democrat or Republican -- to make a "motion to vacate the chair," essentially an attempt to oust the speaker from that leadership post through a privileged resolution.

In January, as he ran for House speaker, McCarthy agreed to give as few as five Republican members the ability to initiate a vote to remove him. But when that was not good enough for his critics, he reduced that threshold to one -- the system that historically has been the norm.

Proponents of allowing a lone lawmaker to file the motion said it promotes accountability, noting its long history in the House. The last use of the motion was in 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a Republican who later became President Donald Trump's White House chief of staff, introduced a resolution to declare the speaker's office vacant. Two months later, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would be stepping down.

McCarthy expressed optimism Sunday that Gaetz would fail and said that Gaetz has been after him since he ran for House speaker.

"Yes, I'll survive," McCarthy said.

Information for this article was contributed by Marianna Sotomayor, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Mariana Alfaro of The Washington Post and by Kevin Freking and Farnoush Amiri of The Associated Press.