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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

McCarthy faces test as Gaetz moves to oust him for working with Democrats

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), right, speaks with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) after Gaetz voted “Present” and failed the 14th speakership vote for McCarthy, on the House floor at the Capitol, in Washington on Jan. 7, 2023.

By Karoun Demirjian

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership position is in peril after his most outspoken Republican critic, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, said Sunday that he would follow through on threats to try to remove McCarthy from the job.

Gaetz’s announcement came a day after McCarthy, in a stunning reversal, turned to Democrats to help him steer a 45-day stopgap spending bill through the House. The backlash was almost immediate, as Republican hard-liners left the Capitol on Saturday complaining that McCarthy had sold them out by working with Democrats. They questioned whether he deserved to keep his job.

“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid,” Gaetz said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, promising in the next few days to bring up a measure called a “motion to vacate.” The move prompts a snap vote on whether to keep the speaker in his post. “I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy.”

Gaetz’s move is the culmination of a monthslong power struggle between McCarthy and far-right members of his party, who sought to deprive him of the speaker’s gavel in January and shut down the House floor this spring to protest a bipartisan deal McCarthy struck with President Joe Biden to raise the debt ceiling.

The possibility that McCarthy might face calls for his ouster has loomed over him since he took the job. Because of a concession he offered to right-wing holdouts in exchange for the speakership, any single lawmaker can call for a removal vote.

But on Sunday, McCarthy shrugged off the threat, predicting that Gaetz’s effort to remove him would fail. He said Gaetz was motivated by a petty grudge rather than a substantive dispute.

“I’ll survive,” McCarthy said during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “You know this is personal with Matt.” He accused Gaetz of being “more interested in securing TV interviews than doing something.”

“So be it, bring it on,” McCarthy added. “Let’s get over with it and let’s start governing. If he’s upset because he tried to push us into a shutdown and I made sure the government didn’t shut down, then let’s have that fight.”

For several weeks, Gaetz has threatened to topple McCarthy. He complained that the speaker had reneged on several promises he made to Republican hard-liners to win their support to become speaker, including demands for deep spending cuts. In Sunday’s CNN interview, he accused McCarthy of lying to his GOP members during spending negotiations and making a “secret deal” with Democrats concerning future funding for Ukraine. He and dozens of other conservative Republicans oppose more aid to Ukraine.

“Nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” Gaetz said, predicting that the only way McCarthy would remain speaker by week’s end is “if Democrats bail him out.”

Although most House Republicans still support keeping McCarthy on as speaker, Gaetz’s plans pose an existential threat to his tenure because of the slim majority the GOP holds in the chamber. If Democrats were to vote against McCarthy — as is almost always the case when a speaker of the opposing party is being elected — Gaetz would need only a handful of Republicans to join the opposition to remove him, which requires a simple majority vote.

To avoid that fate, at least some Democrats would have to either vote to keep McCarthy in office, skip the vote or vote “present” — neither for or against. That would lower the threshold for a majority and make it easier to defeat Gaetz’s motion.

It is not clear whether Democrats would help McCarthy. They are angry that he recently announced that the House was opening an impeachment inquiry into Biden, despite lacking evidence of wrongdoing. Most Democrats regard McCarthy as an untrustworthy figure who has spent months catering to the whims of his right wing.

He has turned to Democrats only when his back is against the wall, as he did in the spring to avoid a federal debt default and again Saturday to keep the government open.

Gaetz expressed confidence that he would eventually rally enough votes among Democrats and Republicans to oust McCarthy as speaker, even if his opening attempt this week fails.

“I might not have them the first time, but I might have them before the 15th ballot,” Gaetz said on ABC’s “This Week.” It was a pointed reference to the number of attempts it took McCarthy to secure his speakership in January. He added, “I am relentless, and I will continue to pursue this objective.”

Gaetz did not say whom he would like to see replace McCarthy as speaker. He argued that it would be unfair to speculate while the House’s second-highest-ranking Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is being treated for cancer.

“I want to see how Steve Scalise comes out of that,” Gaetz said.

That left open the possibility that the top post in the House could remain vacant for some time, with McCarthy forced out and nobody else able to muster the votes to replace him.

The situation has left mainstream Republicans in competitive districts fuming.

Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., accused Gaetz of being “duplicitous” and engaging in a “diatribe of delusional thinking.”

In an interview on ABC that aired just after Gaetz’s appearance, Lawler accused Gaetz of breaking faith with the House GOP when a majority of the chamber’s Republicans did not share his animus toward McCarthy. He also argued that the move would undermine all of the work Republicans had done to advance their conservative policy agenda.

“This will all be torpedoed by one person who wants to put a motion to vacate for personal, political reasons,” Lawler said, noting, “We have to work together as a team.”

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