TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida congressman on Monday filed a resolution to oust the House speaker, something that has rarely been done before.
Earlier U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida's 1st District, said in the afternoon it was contingent on Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a fellow Republican, answering questions about a temporary budget deal brokered with Democrats over the weekend to avert a government shutdown.
A motion to vacate is a procedural tool that has only been used twice in the past century against Republican speakers. McCarthy will have to rely on Democrats to keep him in the position. Needed is simple majority of the House — 218 votes, when no seats are vacant — to remove McCarthy from his post.
"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," 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 then posted on social media: "Bring it one".
Gaetz soon answered in a post, “Just did.”
Gaetz earlier gave about a five-minute speech on the House floor. He said he wanted clear details on how and why McCarthy bartered with the chamber's minority party to secure that 45-day funding plan. If not, Gaetz threatened he'd call for a vote later in the week or as soon as the end of the day.
"It is becoming increasingly clear who the speaker of the House already works for and it's not the Republican conference," Gaetz said. "Mr. Speaker, I would ask that these questions be answered soon because there may be other votes coming today or later this week that could, could be implicated by the answers to these questions."
The congressman later doubled down on that promise in a brief press conference outside the Capitol. Gaetz suggested he wouldn't be deterred, even if he lost an initial vote on the motion to vacate.
"Like I said," Gaetz told the press scrum, "it took Speaker McCarthy 15 votes to become the speaker. So, until I get to 14 or 15, I don't think I'm being any more dilatory than he was.”
Gaetz's chances of success are uncertain. If he clears expected attempts to delay the vote with procedural motions, the congressman would need a simple majority to make the ouster a reality. That might put Speaker McCarthy in a place where he’ll again need the support of Democrats, this time to stave off removal.
It’s something McCarthy didn’t rule out when asked earlier in the day.
“Are you saying you will not cut a deal with Democrats to stay as Speaker?” CNN's Manu Raju asked.
“Look, I think this is about the institution," McCarthy said. "I think it’s too important.”
Online, numerous Republicans have lined up behind McCarthy. Some denouncing Gaetz and calling for his ouster. Gaetz’s allies, meanwhile, didn’t expect the congressman to flinch when it comes to McCarthy.
“He's violated the terms of the agreement which got him elected Speaker back in January, and I think Gaetz is doing the absolute right thing," Anthony Sabatini, Lake County GOP chairman, said. "It's a courageous thing, but it's also the right thing to do.”
As the party's infighting continues, Democrats are watching it all happen. Some took shots at their colleagues across the aisle.
“This just shows that the Republicans and Congress do not have their stuff together," Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Florida's 10th District, said.
The freshman Democrat told us he wasn’t sure how he’d vote if McCarthy’s removal came up on the floor. The caucus, he said, expected to meet and discuss. Frost said there was a path to his party's support, but it required a concession for bipartisanship.
“The only way he'll have my support, or I feel like any Democratic support, is if we can come to a consensus or have a negotiation around shared governance,” Frost said.
If McCarthy is successfully removed, House rules require the chamber to prioritize a replacement speaker before anything else. That would likely further delay chamber business. Political experts warn another legislative log jam may further erode voter support of Congress, which is already low.
“People do not think that this infighting is helping the nation at all," Dr. Susan MacManus, University of South Florida professor emerita said. "And it certainly is threatening a lot of their own personal lives from financial and other perspectives.”
The nation now waits to find out what happens next on Capitol Hill.