Why oust McCarthy? What Matt Gaetz has said about his motivations to remove the speaker of the House

The House is now without a permanent speaker, after Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz’s motion to vacate the speaker’s chair proved successful in a historic vote on Tuesday, removing California Rep. Kevin McCarthy from the role.

Why did Gaetz want to remove McCarthy as Speaker of the House?

But why Gaetz would aim to remove McCarthy as speaker of the House at a time when voters far prefer Republicans than Democrats to handle the economy, and when Republicans only narrowly control the House, is a complicated question. The answer can be traced back to when McCarthy became speaker in the first place, just nine months ago.

Here is why Gaetz said he wanted McCarthy out, and why McCarthy thinks Gaetz wanted him out:

Government spending and the 45-day continuing resolution

Back in January, when Republicans took control of the House, McCarthy was struggling to win the backing of a majority of the House to become speaker. A group of Republican holdouts led by Gaetz withheld their support to extract several concessions from him.

One of their most pressing complaints was the process by which Congress funds the government, which they say enables runaway government spending. 

In theory, executive branch departments — like the Pentagon, the Justice Department, Homeland Security — are funded through a dozen individual appropriations bills that set spending levels for the year ahead. These bills typically must be passed by Congress and signed by the president by the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

In practice, Congress has missed that deadline with growing frequency in recent years. To buy more time, lawmakers pass what’s known in Washington as a “continuing resolution,” which funds the government at current levels for a certain period of time, usually until the holidays. They then use this time to lump all of the individual spending bills together into one massive piece of legislation called an “omnibus” that funds the various departments until the following October, when the cycle repeats again.

Gaetz and his fellow GOP holdouts wanted to put an end to that practice, and return to “regular order” — the consideration and passage of the individual, annual spending bills. This, the argument went, would allow them to extract deeper spending cuts than would otherwise be possible through an omnibus bill, which is often hastily approved with less popular provisions tied to must-pass items.

As that Oct. 1 deadline approached this year, McCarthy brought up and the House passed four individual spending bills but said a continuing resolution would be needed to avoid a shutdown. Gaetz and about a dozen other Republicans saw this as McCarthy reneging on the terms of their deal to support him in the speaker’s election and refused to go along with a funding extension.

Gaetz warned that he would call a vote for McCarthy’s job if he worked with Democrats on a funding extension. 

“A vote for a continuing resolution is a vote to continue the Green New Deal, a vote to continue inflationary spending, and the most troubling of fashions, a vote for a continuing resolution is a vote to continue the election interference of Jack Smith,” Gaetz said in remarks on the House floor on Sept. 12. “We told you how to use the power of the purse: individual, single-subject spending bills that would allow us to have specific review, programmatic analysis and that would allow us to zero out the salaries of the bureaucrats who have broken bad, targeted President Trump or cut sweetheart deals for Hunter Biden.”

McCarthy defied Gaetz’s threat and brought up what’s known as a “clean” CR — an extension that maintains funding at current levels. (It also included $16 billion in disaster relief funds, but did not have funding for Ukraine or a border security measure, two issues that had been sticking points in talks between the parties.)

The legislation passed with wide Democratic support and avoided a government shutdown, but Gaetz followed through on his threat. In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, he announced he would be moving to oust McCarthy and accused the California Republican of repeatedly going back on the deal he made with conservatives in January in his bid for the gavel. 

“Speaker McCarthy made an agreement with House conservatives in January. And, since then, he has been in brazen, repeated material breach of that agreement,” Gaetz said. He introduced his motion to vacate on Monday night, teeing up Tuesday’s vote.

Who else voted to remove McCarthy?

All of the House Democrats present and and seven other Republicans, in addition to Gaetz, voted for McCarthy’s removal:

  • Rep. Andy Biggs, of Arizona
  • Rep. Ken Buck, of Colorado
  • Rep. Tim Burchett, of Tennessee
  • Rep. Eli Crane, of Arizona
  • Rep. Bob Good, of Virginia
  • Rep. Nancy Mace, of South Carolina
  • Rep. Matt Rosendale, of Montana

Funding for Ukraine

The first thing Gaetz said on the House floor Monday, when he suggested his motion to oust McCarthy would be coming soon was, “What was the secret side deal on Ukraine?”

Citing a comment President Biden made Sunday, Gaetz accused McCarthy of making a “secret deal” to provide more funding for Ukraine in a separate measure, which many Republicans oppose. Continuing to provide support for Ukraine has divided House Republicans — last week, a supplemental funding bill for Ukraine had more GOP opposition than support, with 117 Republicans voting against it and 101 voting for it.

Gaetz told CNN that McCarthy was “baiting Republicans to vote for a continuing resolution without Ukraine money, saying that we were going to jam the Senate on Ukraine” while at the same time making a “secret deal.”

McCarthy has flatly denied negotiating a deal with Democrats on Ukraine funding.

As Gaetz rallied support online for his motion to oust McCarthy, he summarized his demands on X: “No more for Ukraine. No CR’s. Cut Spending.”

“Nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy”

Gaetz says that McCarthy has lost everyone’s trust.

“We need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” he told CNN. “Look, the one thing everybody has in common is that nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy.

“He lied to Biden. He lied to House conservatives. He had appropriators marking to a different number altogether,” he added. “And the reason we were backed up against the shutdown politics is not a bug of the system. It’s a feature.”

After filing his motion to vacate on Monday night, Gaetz denounced to reporters McCarthy as a figure compromised by special interests.

“He’s the product of a corrupt system that rewards people who collect large sums of special interest money and then redistribute that money in exchange for political loyalty and political favors,” Gaetz said. 

“The reason Kevin McCarthy went down today is because nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” Gaetz told reporters after the vote. “Kevin McCarthy has made multiple contradictory promises, and when they all came due, he lost votes of people who maybe don’t even ideologically agree with me on everything.” 

He may have been talking about Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican who was one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy. She said in a statement that her vote was “about trust and keeping your word.” Mace, who supported McCarthy for speaker in January — and knocked Gaetz for blocking him — said that McCarthy “has not lived up to his word on how the House would operate.”

“No budget, no separate spending bills until it was too late, a [continuing resolution] which takes spending power out of the hands of the people and puts all the power into the hands of a select few,” she added. Mace was also unhappy about broken promises she said McCarthy made to her about legislation on women’s issues and making communities safe. “There has been no action,” she wrote.

Balanced budgets, term limits and Hunter Biden

On Sept. 12, Gaetz announced on the House floor he was serving notice to McCarthy to tell him he was “out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role,” and he warned that he had to come into total compliance or be removed by a motion to vacate.

Gaetz rattled off a list of issues McCarthy had agreed to put to a vote and criticized him for reaching a deal with Mr. Biden this summer to lift the debt ceiling.

“We’ve had no vote on term limits or on balanced budgets, as the agreement demanded and required. There’s been no full release of the Jan. 6 tapes, as you promised. There has been insufficient accountability for the Biden crime family,” the Florida Republican said. “Instead of cutting spending to raise the debt limit, you relied on budgetary gimmicks and rescissions so that you ultimately ended up serving as the valet to underwrite Biden’s debt and advance his spending agenda.”

He complained that eight months into the GOP-led House, investigators “haven’t even sent the first subpoena to Hunter Biden.”

“Mr. Speaker, dust off our written January agreement. You have a copy. Reflect on the spirit of that agreement,” he said. “Begin to comply. No continuing resolutions. Individual spending bills or bust. Votes on balanced budgets and term limits. Subpoenas for Hunter Biden and the members of the Biden family who’ve been grifting off this country, and the impeachment of Joe Biden that he so richly deserves. Do these things or face a motion to vacate the chair.”

Ethics investigation into Gaetz

McCarthy has said Gaetz’s vendetta against him is personal and that Gaetz is targeting him over a House Ethics Committee investigation opened in 2021

“He’s blaming me for an ethics complaint against him that happened in the last Congress,” McCarthy said on CNBC Tuesday. “I have nothing to do with it.”

CNN reported in July that the House Ethics Committee in July had revived a probe into allegations against Gaetz that include sexual misconduct and drug use. Gaetz has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. The Justice Department in February told witnesses in the sex trafficking investigation into Gaetz that it would not bring charges against the Florida congressman. The department had been investigating Gaetz to determine if he violated sex trafficking laws or obstructed justice during its probe. 

What’s next for McCarthy?

McCarthy has not yet disclosed his future plans, but he did announce to his conference he would not run again for speaker. He told reporters Tuesday night he hasn’t thought about leaving the House.



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