Rep. Matt Gaetz triggers vote to oust Kevin McCarthy from speaker’s office

WASHINGTON — Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the Donald Trump ally and conservative bomb-thrower who has been a nagging thorn in leadership’s side, filed a resolution on Monday to force a vote to overthrow his political nemesis, Kevin McCarthy, as speaker of the House.

The House must now vote on whether to keep McCarthy on as speaker, but they have until Wednesday to do so.

Speaking to reporters on the steps of the Capitol, a beaming Gaetz predicted he has the votes to oust McCarthy — as long as Democrats don’t move to save the speaker.

“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,” Gaetz said.

During the past two weeks, Gaetz had issued a specific warning to McCarthy, saying that he would try to oust the speaker if he brought a short-term government funding bill to the floor that passed with help from Democrats.

True to his word, Gaetz made the motion to vacate on Monday, just two days after McCarthy put a so-called “clean” continuing resolution or CR on the floor to avert a government shutdown, passing it with 209 Democratic votes and 125 Republican votes.

The House floor is normally loud and boisterous. But it was absolutely quiet as Gaetz stood up, buttoned his jacket, approached the well of the House and addressed the chamber Monday evening, announcing the motion. When he finished after about a minute, there was no reaction from the Democrats or Republicans gathered as he walked away up the aisle.

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Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Kevin McCarthy speak in the House ChamberGaetz and McCarthy sparring during the 15 rounds of votes for speaker in January.Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images file

“Kevin McCarthy likes to pretend that he makes coalition with conservatives, but all he really does is break his word with conservatives,” Gaetz told reporters. “The coalition that really runs this country is the uni-party — the Biden-McCarthy-Jeffries government, and that is what we will demonstrate with this vote.”

Defiant, McCarthy and his allies have lashed out at Gaetz, accusing the Florida Republican of seeking the limelight and holding a personal vendetta against the speaker. They vowed will beat back Gaetz’s efforts to depose McCarthy.

“So be it, bring it on,” McCarthy said during an appearance Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I’ll survive.”

Just minutes after Gaetz filed the motion, McCarthy repeated those remarks on X: “Bring it on.”

Gaetz’s action comes after months of publicly tangling with McCarthy, who he says failed to live up to promises he made to conservatives during the speaker’s fight in January to significantly cut spending. In fact, it was Gaetz himself who led a band of 20 conservative rebels to oppose McCarthy for the speaker job, leading to 15 grueling rounds of voting before McCarthy finally triumphed.

By filing a so-called “motion to vacate,” Gaetz has now triggered a future floor vote on removing McCarthy as speaker, though it’s unclear exactly when that vote might happen. McCarthy allies almost certainly will try to delay or thwart a vote by “tabling” the motion and referring it to a committee, but that may not work. 

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The Gaetz resolution “declaring the Office of Speaker vacant” is privileged, meaning it takes precedence over other House business. Under House rules, privileged matters must be considered within two legislative days.

Conservative Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., said moments after Gaetz filed the motion that he thought it was a “bad idea,” though he said he said Gaetz “probably does” have at least five votes to remove McCarthy.

“I don’t support the motion to vacate,” he said, noting that he’s a rare Republican who filed the motion to overthrow then-Speaker John Boehner in 2015. Massie said Gaetz has fewer grievances against McCarthy.

“We’re going to find out by the end of the week if this is sustainable,” he said.

Gaetz’s motion now puts House Democrats in a political pickle given the GOP’s razor-thin, 221-212 majority. Democrats will have to decide whether to vote with McCarthy foes to topple him as speaker, or side with McCarthy allies to bail him out.

But there’s been little goodwill between Democrats and the California Republican, who criticized, then defended Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, reneged on a debt and budget deal with President Joe Biden and recently launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden.

“It’s not my problem to save his a–,” Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., said after the motion was made Monday night.

Scott Wong

Scott Wong is a senior congressional reporter for NBC News.

Sahil Kapur and Rebecca Kaplancontributed.