(Bloomberg) -- A moment of truth has arrived for House Republicans, and it isn’t surprising that Matt Gaetz, the far-right Florida congressman and booster of former President Donald Trump, is the man behind it.
Gaetz, 41, said he’ll file a motion to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week after the Republican leader relied on Democrats to push through a stopgap spending bill and avert a government shutdown.
It’s the culmination of weeks of agitating for McCarthy’s removal amid criticism from the party’s right flank that the speaker is falling short of demands like conservative immigration policies and deep government spending cuts.
“I am relentless and I will continue to pursue this objective,” Gaetz said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
Gaetz won his House seat in 2016, the same year Trump was elected. Since then, the lawmaker has engaged in similar anti-establishment rhetoric and pushed often hyper-conservative policy views. Gaetz calls himself the “Trumpiest Congressman” and said last month he frequently talks with the former president. He’s also faced federal and House probes into sex trafficking allegations, which he has denied.
The public fight with McCarthy has again put Gaetz in the spotlight, giving him a national platform even as he denies reports that he’s weighing a run for Florida governor.
Gaetz and McCarthy differ on whether it’s a clash of personalities or policy. Either way, Gaetz and a like-minded group of conservatives have won leverage thanks to McCarthy’s single-digit Republican majority in the House and they haven’t been shy about using it. That has helped inflame tension between moderate and right-leaning lawmakers in what Democrats call a Republican civil war.
The highly public fight has again put Gaetz in the spotlight, giving the lawmaker a national platform even after probes from the Justice Department and House Ethics committee into sex trafficking allegations. The push to vacate McCarthy also comes amid rumors that Gaetz is weighing a run for Florida governor, though he denied reports. He told NBC News that his political focus is getting Trump elected for a second term in 2024.
The motion to oust McCarthy would likely require support from Democrats because of the slim majority. So far, it’s unclear how much backing Gaetz will get.
McCarthy could be ousted on a simple majority of half the House. But since it’s unlikely the entire Republican caucus would vote against him, Gaetz would need to do exactly what he’s criticized McCarthy for: rely on Democratic votes for the expulsion to succeed.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York, hasn’t indicated whether he’ll encourage his party to oust the speaker.
Gaetz’s rift with McCarthy took center stage during the tumultuous speaker’s race in January, when McCarthy won the coveted post on the 15th ballot only after Gaetz switched his vote to “present” from “no.” That followed remarkable scenes on the chamber’s floor, including finger-pointing, shouted words and a near-slip into violence.
While Gaetz insisted in Sunday television interviews that his quest to shut down the government was about changing the process with which Congress funds the government, McCarthy appeared to accuse him of showmanship.
“He’s more interested in securing TV interviews than doing something,” the California Republican said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Gaetz, a former state representative and lawyer by trade, is no stranger to controversy. The House Committee on Ethics opened an investigation in 2021 into allegations that he may have engaged in sexual misconduct, illicit drug use and other offenses. Gaetz has denied the allegations.
Separately, the Justice Department told Gaetz in February that he won’t face charges in a three-year sex trafficking investigation over allegations that he had a relationship with a 17-year-old girl in exchange for money.
As a congressman, Gaetz has often pressed for conservative policies, including introducing a bill that mandated deportation of all undocumented immigrants at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. He has occasionally voted with Democrats on some matters, such as legalizing marijuana.
Along with his prominence, the congressman has piled up detractors on both sides of the aisle, including among vulnerable Republicans in swing districts.
The motion to remove McCarthy “is destructive to the country,” Representative Mike Lawler, a moderate Republican from New York, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Every time we all work together, he loses his mind,” said Representative Greg Landsman, an Ohio Democrat. “He doesn’t want the center left and center right to work together because he has to be the center of attention.”
McCarthy, 58, dared Gaetz to try to oust him as speaker. “I’ll survive,” he said Sunday on CBS.
Asked whether he had the votes to make good on his threat, Gaetz was undeterred and taunted the speaker about his difficult election to the post.
“I might not have them the first time, but I might have them before the 15th ballot,” Gaetz said on ABC.
--With assistance from Erik Wasson.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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