After the last vote on Monday, October 2, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) filed his motion to oust Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. Standing up on the House floor – to the chuckles of attendant Democrats – he said, “Pursuant to clause two A1 of Rule nine, I rise to give notice of my intent to raise a question of the privileges of the House.” For the first time in more than 100 years, a member stated that the form of his resolution was to declare “the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives to be vacant, resolved that the Office of Speaker of the House of Representatives is hereby declared to be vacant.”
In the wake of the House being forced to pass a 45-day Continuing Resolution to keep the government – at least temporarily – open, McCarthy came under fire from both sides of the aisle. He was accused by the left of not being able to control his own party – thereby bringing the nation to the brink of shutdown – as well as by the right for what they saw as kowtowing to Democrats for votes rather than making deals with his own side.
With Gaetz taking action to remove McCarthy following the episode, so begins a delicate balancing act of power struggles as politicians attempt to either save their jobs, inflict reputational damage, build personal profiles, or wheedle concessions from the Republican majority.
What Comes Next?
Pursuant to House rules, the membership must vote within two legislative days on McCarthy’s speakership. If he loses, then a new speaker must be proposed (although the ousted lawmaker could theoretically be voted in again). Gaetz believes that one of two outcomes will occur and that he is “at peace” with either. On Monday he told reporters:
“Well, 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.”
With just five votes to spare, Democrat support will be a must for the belabored McCarthy – after all, there were 20 of his party members who initially refused to support his speakership bid. Fortunately for him, the California Republican has a lot of leverage in what he can promise to Democrat lawmakers in return for their support. While such a bargain will make Gaetz’s point well – as in, “the speaker of the House working at the pleasure of the Democrats” – McCarthy may indeed get Fourth Estate kudos from the left-leaning media for being a man able and willing to compromise.
The question becomes: What concessions will Democrats demand?
What Came Before?
McCarthy has publicly seemed unfazed by the threat to his position, writing on X (née Twitter) “Bring it on.” He has told reporters that Gaetz’s efforts are a “personal” attack rather than a political one, dismissing the Florida lawmaker’s claims out of hand. However, Gaetz has not been a wallflower when it comes to making his own case.
“For some people, policy failures are recast as personal because their own failures are personally embarrassing to them,” Gaetz argued. “This isn’t personal, I can cite to the specific elements of House Rules that have been violated.” Presenting his reasoning, he said:
“Kevin McCarthy agreed to a rule that we would have 72 hours to read legislation. He blew past that. Kevin McCarthy agreed to a rule that we would not put anything over $100 million on the suspension agenda so that it couldn’t be amended. He blew past that. Kevin McCarthy agreed to the Hastert Rule, which is that you would never use the Democrats to roll a majority of the majority, on the last Ukraine supplemental 101 Republicans voted for it. 117 Republicans voted against it. So, does this sound personal to you?”
“He’s just trying to subjugate his real and significant breaches of our agreement as some sort of personal dispute but that says more about him than it says about what we’re trying to do,” the Florida representative added.
Bracing for Power Plays
Prior to the passing of a 45-day stopgap measure to fund the government, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries argued on the House floor that extremism and incompetency were part of the Republican DNA. Just how willing will members of his party be to cast those few essential votes to save McCarthy’s skin?
New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was insistent that her party would not loan McCarthy any votes. Voicing her opinion of the top House Republican, she said, “I think Kevin McCarthy is a very weak Speaker. He clearly has lost control of his caucus. He has brought the United States and millions of Americans to the brink, waiting until the final hour to keep the government open, and even then, only issuing a 45-day extension.” But AOC is on the far left of her own party, and more centrist members could be willing to get on board if only to defeat what the legacy media has described as a far-right coup.
McCarthy may only need a small handful of Democrat votes to retain his position, but each of those ballots will be worth their weight in political gold. Just how much is the current speaker willing to spend?