Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has formally demanded that the House of Representatives hold what will amount to a vote of no-confidence in House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, just days after the GOP leader allowed the House to advance legislation to stave off a government shutdown.
Speaking on the House floor late Monday following a series of votes, Mr Gaetz said he was raising “a question of the privileges of the House”.
Asked to specify the question he was raising, he replied: “Declaring 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’”.
The presiding officer — another Florida Representative, Carlos Gimenez, informed him that the “question of privilege” — a parliamentary manoeuvre which takes precedence over any other matters before the chamber — could only be brought up within two “legislative days” after it is determined to be “properly noticed”.
“Pending that designation the form of the resolution, the notice by the gentleman from Florida will appear in the record at this point. The chair will not at this point determine whether the resolution can constitutes a question of privilege. That determination will be made at the time designated for consideration of the resolution,” he said.
The power play by the Florida backbencher makes him the first House member to call for the removal of a sitting speaker in over a century. But it’s unclear whether Mr Gaetz would have enough support for his motion to actually achieve Mr McCarthy’s ouster.
Earlier in the day, he had taken to the House floor, during a period when members are permitted to give general speeches on any topic, to rail against the Mr McCarthy, a fellow Republican who represents California, for allowing the House to pass a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown late Saturday, just hours before the expiration of the fiscal year.
The Florida Republican and a small group of fellow right-wingers had opposed the measure, known as a continuing resolution, because it did not include draconian cuts to most government departments.
In his remarks, he accused Mr McCarthy of acting in favour of extending “Joe Biden’s spending and Joe Biden's policy priorities” and having “gave away ... money for Ukraine that Joe Biden wanted,” citing statements from Senate leaders who expressed confidence that the Congress will soon take up legislation to extend US financial support for Kyiv’s defence against Russia’s invasion, as well as Mr McCarthy’s own words about his desire to fund defence assistance for Ukraine and a set of GOP-authored border security and immigration priorities.
“It is going to be difficult for my Republican friends to keep calling President Biden feeble. While he continues to take Speaker McCarthy's lunch money in every negotiation,” he said.
Mr Gaetz also argued that the House is no longer able to take up legislation to fund Ukraine’s defence because, in his telling, Mr McCarthy agreed to enforce the so-called “Hastert Rule” on all legislation.
Named for an admitted child molester who served as a Republican Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, the “Hastert Rule” is not an actual rule of the House.
Instead, it refers to a practice that Hastert, a convicted felon and sex offender, pioneered by refusing to let the chamber vote on legislation that did not have support from a majority of Republicans.
In practice, it is a way for the GOP to cut Democrats out of the governing process and limit bipartisanship.
According to Republican sources who have spoken to The Independent in the months since Mr McCarthy was elected Speaker after a record 15 separate ballots, enforcing the “Hastert Rule” was a condition the Californian agreed to before receiving enough votes from a small group of extremist holdouts to claim the gavel.
“The last time there's a free-standing Ukraine vote on this floor, it was last week — 101 Republicans voted for it, 117 Republicans voted against it. According to the Hastert Rule, which Speaker McCarthy agreed to in January, you cannot use Democrats to roll a majority of the majority, certainly on something as consequential as Ukraine,” he said.
Continuing, Mr Gaetz conceded that the House might agree to take up a bill to fund assistance to Kyiv, but pivoted to arguing that such funding shouldn’t be paired with any border funds.
“I get that a lot of folks might disagree with my perspectives on the border or on Ukraine. But can we at least agree that no matter how you feel about Ukraine or the southern border, they each deserve the dignity of their own consideration and should not be rolled together where they might pass where each individually wouldn't,” he said.
“This is what we're trying to get away from. This is the spirit of the January agreement we made with the Speaker — no more lashing these disparate issues together so that the American people's interests are subjugated here on the floor of the house”.
He also claimed that Mr McCarthy is acting at the behest of Mr Biden and not the GOP conference, and again demanded to know what agreement he made with the president.
“Mr Speaker, just tell us just tell us what was in the secret Ukraine side deal ... I would ask that these questions be answered soon, because there may be other votes coming today or later this week that could be implicated by the answers to these questions. 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,” he said. “I'll be listening — stay tuned”.
Because of the narrow margins by which Republicans control the House, Mr McCarthy could only lose a small number of votes from his own conference if every Democrat voted in favour of a motion to vacate the chair.
But Democrats could come to his rescue by voting against or by voting present and reducing the number of votes required for him to keep his job.
For now, Democrats are deferring to Democratic leadership.
“Not my monkey not my circus,” Rep Eric Swalwell (R-CA) told The Independent.
Mr Swalwell has clashed with the speaker after Mr McCarthy removed him from the House Intelligence Committee earlier this year. But he deferred when asked whether Mr McCarthy could cut any type of deal with Democrats to protect his speakership.
“I think that’s for our leader to negotiate on,” he said.
Representative Katherine Clark, the Democratic whip, said on Monday that her caucus would consider how to handle a no-confidence vote when a motion to vacate is formally made.
Ms Clark told MSNBC that House Democrats would “come together as a family in the Democratic caucus to talk about whatever is presented to us” at that time.
But the Massachusetts Democrat suggested that Mr McCarthy’s problems were of his own making and said they stemmed from his inability to keep his word to members of either party.
“The bad thing for Kevin McCarthy is that he is untrustworthy,” she said, citing Mr McCarthy’s decision to renege on an agreement he struck with Mr Biden to raise the government’s statutory debt limit in exchange for some spending cuts.
“They made a deal, Kevin McCarthy signed that deal, 314 of us voted to approve it in a bipartisan way. The ink wasn’t dry before Kevin McCarthy was back to catering to the extremists,” she said. “That is what he does. Because his focus is about keeping his speakership and not about making progress for Americans at home”.
Over the weekend, Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), told CNN that she would “absolutely” vote to vacate Mr McCarthy. On Monday, Ms Ocasio-Cortez reiterated her position.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive member of the Squad, told The Independent she did not worry about enabling Mr Gaetz.
“I think our priorities are Democratic priorities and we just assess the conditions of the moment,” she said. “It's really not about any one individual it's about the decision we make as a as a team to really do as much as we can to deliver for people.”
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