The US House of Representatives is bracing for a key vote Tuesday over Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s political future as GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida pushes for his ouster – and Democrats are signaling they won’t bail McCarthy out.
The push to oust McCarthy represents the most serious threat to the California Republican’s speakership to date and marks a major escalation in tensions for a House GOP conference that has been mired in in-fighting and could be thrown into further chaos if McCarthy is pushed out – just days after McCarthy successfully engineered a last-minute bipartisan effort to avert a government shutdown.
McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday that he will bring up the motion to vacate in the first vote series of the day. The move comes after Gaetz offered what is known as a motion to vacate the chair – a rare procedural maneuver that can be used to force a vote to remove the speaker.
McCarthy can only afford to lose four GOP defections if all Democrats vote against him and all members are present and voting. But five Republicans have already said they will back the effort to boot McCarthy, meaning that he would need Democratic votes to survive and hold onto the speakership, assuming there aren’t extensive absences during the vote.
There is a significant amount of distrust and anger from House Democrats toward McCarthy, however, over his actions as speaker and the House GOP agenda.
House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote in a letter to his caucus that leadership plans to vote in support of removing McCarthy.
“It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War. Given their unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes on the pending Republican Motion to Vacate the Chair,” he wrote.
McCarthy told reporters he is “confident I will hold on.” But he conceded ahead of the vote that he faces tough odds. “If five Republicans go with Democrats, then I’m out,” McCarthy said, adding “probably so,” when pressed on whether that is likely to happen. He said he is not expecting Democrats to back him up in the vote.
The effort to oust the speaker comes as a bloc of hardline conservatives have continued to thwart McCarthy, voting against key priorities of GOP leadership and repeatedly throwing up roadblocks to the speaker’s agenda. No House speaker has ever been ousted through the passage of a resolution to remove them.
Gaetz filed the motion to vacate after McCarthy put forward a stopgap bill to avert a government shutdown that passed with support from Democrats.
The first vote on Tuesday related to the motion to vacate is expected to be a procedural move to try to kill the effort. If the procedural vote fails, then there would be a vote directly on whether to remove McCarthy as speaker, which would take only a majority to succeed.
McCarthy appeared to rule out any sort of power-sharing agreement with Democrats, telling CNN’s Manu Raju, “that doesn’t work.”
“I’m a Republican. I’m a conservative that wants to get things done. I know we live in – our government’s designed to have compromise, but look, we are in the majority. You don’t surrender,” he said.
McCarthy told his members he will not cut a deal with Democrats, sources said.
Gaetz was directly pressed by his colleagues during a Tuesday party meeting for his grand plan, and who would replace McCarthy if he was ousted, sources said. Gaetz stood up and responded that there would need to be a new speaker’s election that plays out but didn’t name anyone he had in mind for the job.
To force a vote, a member must go to the House floor and announce their intent to offer the resolution to remove the speaker – as Gaetz did. Doing so requires the speaker to put the resolution on the legislative schedule within two legislative days, setting up a showdown on the floor over the issue.
A vote on a resolution to remove the speaker could still be preempted, however, even once it is on track to come to the floor for consideration.
For example, when the resolution is called up on the floor, a motion to table – or kill – the resolution could be offered and would be voted on first. That vote would also only require a simple majority to succeed – and if it did succeed then there would not be a vote directly on the resolution to remove the speaker because the resolution would instead be tabled.
This story has been updated with additional developments.