WASHINGTON — Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., conceded on Monday that Speaker Kevin McCarthy “probably” can survive a conservative effort to oust him from power.
But, Gaetz said, McCarthy would almost certainly need to rely on Democrats to do so, weakening the GOP speaker’s standing among House Republicans.
“Kevin McCarthy’s true coalition partner on all things of substance has been the Democrats this Congress,” Gaetz told reporters on the steps of the Capitol Monday, pointing to how McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to pass a debt and budget deal earlier this year and a bill to avert a government shutdown on Saturday.
“If Kevin McCarthy works for Democrats and utilizes Democrats in order to keep power, that would be consistent with everything we’ve seen from him,” Gaetz added.
As part of his fight to gain the speaker’s gavel, McCarthy made it easier for foes like Gaetz to force a vote to remove him from power. Gaetz or any other single member can now file a “motion to vacate,” which requires the House to vote on whether to keep McCarthy as speaker.
Gaetz said if he fails to oust McCarthy the first time, he could keep calling votes to remove the speaker, forcing his GOP colleagues to repeatedly take tough votes in support of McCarthy.
“It took Speaker McCarthy 15 votes to become the speaker,” Gaetz said. “So until I guess the 14th or 15th, I don’t think I’m being any more dilatory than he was.”
Asked by NBC News Monday afternoon if he’s OK with his members taking multiple tough votes for him for speaker, McCarthy used Gaetz’s own language: “I think if somebody does dilatory tactics, I don’t think our members will want to keep doing it.”
Earlier Monday, McCarthy declined to rule out the possibility of cutting a deal with Democrats to stay in power, though he said he hasn’t spoken to Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, about it.
“I think this is about the institution,” McCarthy said.
Gaetz, a conservative bomb-thrower and top Donald Trump ally, spoke to reporters moments after taking to the House floor and railing against what he called McCarthy’s “secret side deal” with President Joe Biden and Democrats to hold a separate vote on new aid money for Ukraine — something McCarthy denied Monday morning.
But despite the palpable anticipation, Gaetz didn’t trigger a vote to oust McCarthy at that time.
Asked if he was backing down, Gaetz replied that he wanted to file a motion to vacate when more lawmakers are present. “No one’s in town. It’s Monday on a fly-in day at noon,” he explained. “I think we’ll have more folks later this afternoon.”
He clarified that he would still take action against McCarthy “this week.”
McCarthy and his allies have been defiant, saying they will beat back any effort by Gaetz to overthrow him.
“So be it, bring it on,” McCarthy said during an appearance Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I’ll survive.”
As the floor opened at noon, several McCarthy loyalists gave speeches in support of the speaker and warned that any effort to remove him could delay the GOP’s push to pass appropriations bills and cut spending ahead of the new Nov. 17 deadline to fund the government or risk a shutdown.
“The immediate effect will be to paralyze the House indefinitely because no other business can be taken up until a replacement is elected,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican like McCarthy. “I cannot conceive of a more counterproductive and self-destructive course than that.”
As for potential replacements for McCarthy, Gaetz mentioned McCarthy’s top deputy, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., as a possibility, but he did not endorse anyone.
“There’s probably 100 Republicans in Congress that I would vote for for speaker,” Gaetz said. “We have a lot of folks in Congress who I think would be very capable to serve as speaker.”
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