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Matt Gaetz moves to oust Kevin McCarthy as House speaker

<i>Ken Cedeno/Reuters</i><br/>Rep. Matt Gaetz runs up the East Capitol stairs as the deadline to avert a partial government shutdown approaches on Capitol Hill in Washington
Ken Cedeno/Reuters
Rep. Matt Gaetz runs up the East Capitol stairs as the deadline to avert a partial government shutdown approaches on Capitol Hill in Washington

By Haley Talbot, Kristin Wilson and Clare Foran, CNN

(CNN) — Rep. Matt Gaetz on Monday moved 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 his speakership to date. A floor vote to oust McCarthy would require a majority to succeed.

“Bring it on,” the California Republican wrote on X shortly after the motion. Gaetz responded to the post with one of his own, writing, “Just did.”

The move marks a major escalation in tensions for a House GOP conference that has been mired in in-fighting and could be thrown into chaos if McCarthy is pushed out of the speakership. It comes as a bloc of House 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, but threats over the use of what’s known as a “motion to vacate” can be a powerful way to apply pressure to a speaker.

Gaetz, a Florida Republican and frequent critic of McCarthy, had 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.

According to House precedent, a resolution to remove the speaker would be considered privileged, a designation that gives it priority over other issues.

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.

McCarthy is expected to make a procedural move in an attempt to kill the measure to remove him as speaker, potentially as soon as Tuesday, several sources told CNN, in a vote that would be the first sign of where his support lies.

McCarthy has several procedural options at his disposal, including the “motion to table,” referring the resolution to committee or raising a question of consideration – all of which would essentially kill the resolution and require a majority of the chamber to succeed.

If the procedural motions fail, the House will have to vote on whether to oust him as speaker.

The last time a high-profile showdown played out on Capitol Hill over a motion to vacate was in 2015 when then-GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina filed a resolution to declare the office of speaker vacant while John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, was serving as speaker. It was not brought to a floor vote, however.

Not long after the resolution was filed, Boehner downplayed its significance, calling it “no big deal.” But a few months later, he announced that he had decided to resign, saying that he had planned to step down at the end of the year but that turmoil within his conference prompted him to resign earlier than planned.

Gaetz on Monday 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.”

McCarthy may need Democratic support

Gaetz said Monday that he has “enough Republicans” to either push McCarthy from the speakership or make him cut a deal with Democrats to remain in power.

“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. And I’m at peace with either result, because the American people deserve to know who governs them,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.

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 and Reps. 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.

House Democrats are largely saying they will wait for the Democratic leadership to take a position before deciding how to vote on whether to oust McCarthy.

“We need a party position,” Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal said.

Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Florida, said that “there’s lots of different considerations here. But at the end of the day I’m waiting to hear from Leader Jeffries. Leader Jeffries has earned that right from every Democratic member.”

Democratic Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, one of the most vulnerable House Democrats who has before voted with Republicans, told CNN she is open to negotiating to keep McCarthy in his job. 

“The word of the week is leverage,” the Washington state congresswoman told CNN, adding: “We will just see what on offer before we prioritize.”

“I am invested in delivering the best thing I can for my district. Kevin has never been that to date but we’ll see what we can get,” she said.

Monday afternoon, Gaetz addressed a group of hard-liners to make his case for McCarthy’s ouster, according to multiple lawmakers who were in attendance, who then debated whether they should back the effort.

The group was mostly made up of members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, but included some other lawmakers as well.

Gaetz told the members he thinks it’s “the right thing” to do and listed some of his grievances with McCarthy, saying he violated his terms to become speaker. Now, he argued, is the time to pull the trigger, members said.

The group then discussed the pros and cons of supporting the motion to vacate, with one of the downsides being it could hinder their ability to finish work on spending bills ahead of the November 17 deadline.

They also discussed who would be next in line to become speaker if McCarthy was ousted, how the process would play out, and the prospect of McCarthy needing Democratic votes, which they agreed would be problematic, the lawmakers said.

South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, who is still undecided on his vote, confirmed that there was a meeting with a “good many” GOP members, where they discussed their options and Gaetz addressed the room.

Asked by CNN on Monday if he’s prepared to go through a speakership vote with no one getting the requisite votes, Gaetz projected confidence.

“I would think if it took Kevin McCarthy 15 votes to become speaker, and after 8 months of a failed speakership, and after a successful removal vote, as your hypothesis would portend, that he could take a hint,” Gaetz said.

Democratic cooperation, Ukraine aid threaten McCarthy’s leadership

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.

This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Melanie Zanona, Morgran Rimmer, Annie Grayer, Lauren Fox, Sam Fossum, MJ Lee and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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