The ongoing feud between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is hurtling toward a breaking point. Gaetz has repeatedly criticized the speaker for his seeming willingness to compromise with Democrats and his seeming inability to push a conservative agenda in the House.
Against the backdrop of an impending government shutdown, McCarthy’s position becomes even more precarious as other Republican lawmakers are backing Gaetz’s effort to oust the speaker. Now, House Republicans are reportedly discussing who could replace McCarthy if Gaetz were to lead a successful effort to submit a motion to vacate, which would declare the office of speaker to be vacant.
Discussions on who could replace Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) are beginning to emerge from the shadows, with multiple GOP sources questioning if he'll make it until December.
Why it matters: Some House GOP members — including McCarthy allies — say there should be a contingency plan to avoid another grueling speaker vote in case Rep. Matt Gaetz's (R-Fla.) threatened motion to vacate were to succeed.
There are several possible replacements for McCarthy being discussed behind the scenes.
The intrigue: One lawmaker confirmed to Axios that Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) was approached multiple times about being a potential replacement, but declined interest in the position.
A slew of different names have been floated by members in different factions, including Republican Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), House Rules Chair Tom Cole (R-Okla.), House Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.).
Gaetz has been an ardent critic of McCarthy since even before he was elected as speaker. He contends that McCarthy has failed to live up to the agreements he made with the conservative House Freedom Caucus to occupy the speaker position. The conflict between the two lawmakers underscores a deepening rift in the GOP between the moderate pragmatic faction fending off constant attacks from the more conservative wing of the party.
The Florida lawmaker has been discussing McCarthy’s ouster with Republicans and Democrats in the House. Having a successful motion to vacate would require a substantial level of support. Indeed, Gaetz would have to get about 200 Democrats to sign on to the effort, which would be a gargantuan undertaking.
McCarthy has remained unfazed by the criticisms against him. He dismissed Gaetz’s threats as inconsequential. "The one thing I make very clear, he can threaten all he wants, I will not inject the Speaker into the independent ethics committee to influence in any way at all," he told reporters. Nevertheless, it is clear that the speaker does not enjoy the full confidence of the party at the moment.
This saga highlights an interesting paradox – as the threat of a government shutdown looms large over Congress, the GOP’s internal conflicts seem to have taken center stage. It is a battle between pragmatic bipartisanship and taking principled stands for conservatism. It is no wonder McCarthy finds himself in such murky waters.
The upcoming days are critical. The future will not only determine the fate of McCarthy’s speakership, but it also will reveal whether the government will remain open. Even further, it will go a long way toward shaping the trajectory of the Republican Party.