Rep. Matt Gaetz on Monday moved ahead in his attempt to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy from the top House leadership post, offering a motion to vacate the chair on the House floor – a rare procedural move that can be used to force a vote to remove the speaker.
It’s not yet clear how the challenge to McCarthy will play out, but the effort represents the most serious threat to the California Republican’s speakership to date. A floor vote to oust McCarthy would require a majority vote to succeed.
Gaetz, a Florida Republican and frequent critic of McCarthy, has been pushing to oust the speaker by using the congressional mechanism to vacate the chair, which allows any one member the ability to call for a new speaker election, though GOP leadership has a few options to stop or stall such an effort.
Conservatives have threatened to oust McCarthy over relying on Democratic votes, as he did Saturday to advance legislation staving off a government shutdown. Gaetz also cited the possibility of the House holding votes on sending aid to Ukraine as another reason to oust him.
“Members of the Republican Party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us about his secret side deal with Joe Biden on Ukraine. I’ll be listening,” he said in closing. “Stay tuned.”
In Sunday remarks responding to the thwarted government shutdown, President Joe Biden called on McCarthy and other Republican leaders to follow through on a commitment to hold a standalone vote on funding for Ukraine as it attempts to fight off Russia’s invasion.
“I hope my friends on the other side keep their word about support for Ukraine. They said they’re going to support Ukraine in a separate vote,” Biden said. “We cannot, under any circumstance, allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted.”
When a reporter asked whether Biden on Sunday would trust McCarthy when the “next deal comes around,” Biden responded, “We just made one about Ukraine. So, we’ll find out.”
McCarthy denied he had made any side deals on promising to put Ukraine funding on the floor, adding that all he did was tell Democrats that if there was a technical issue with the legislation to continue government funding that dealt with transferring existing funds, it could be fixed.
“There is no side deal, so I don’t know who is bringing that up,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol. “There is no side deal on Ukraine.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly would not specify any details beyond what Biden said publicly over the weekend.
“There’s obviously bipartisan support to continue the funding to Ukraine,” she said when asked whether Biden was referring to any specific agreement from McCarthy to take up new Ukraine funding.
McCarthy is at risk of losing five or more Republicans on an expected motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, more defections than he can afford to lose — meaning he is certain to need Democratic votes to survive, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Gaetz, Rep. Eli Crane and Bob Good have all said they will vote yes on the motion, while Rep. Andy Biggs tells CNN he’s “favorably disposed” to vote for it and Rep. Tim Burchett says his “conscience” is telling him to “vote him out” but he’s still torn.
Earlier Monday, McCarthy refused to rule out cutting a deal with Democrats in order to survive Gaetz’s push.
“I think this is about the institution. I think it’s too important,” he told CNN. The speaker added that he has not yet spoken with Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries about how Democrats would handle the motion to vacate.
Following his floor remarks, Gaetz said on the steps of the Capitol that “I’m going to be doing it this week” when asked by reporters about when he would bring a motion to vacate to the floor.
Gaetz told CNN he spoke to former President Donald Trump about ousting McCarthy but wouldn’t disclose any details about the conversation, saying he would “keep that between the two of us.”
This headline and story has been updated with additional developments.