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Matt Gaetz moves to oust Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker

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Matt Gaetz, the firebrand Republican congressman from Florida, has moved to oust the Speaker of the House of Representatives, setting the stage for a dramatic vote within 48 hours to determine Kevin McCarthy’s political fate.

Gaetz took the bold step to aim to remove McCarthy late on Monday, just two days after the Speaker brokered a deal with Democrats to avert a costly government shutdown.

Gaetz told the House he was introducing a resolution “declaring the office of Speaker of the House of the Representatives to be vacant”. It marks only the third time in US history that a motion to vacate has been filed in an attempt to remove a Speaker.

It comes after months of acrimony between the two men, and sets the stage for a make-or-break vote for McCarthy that must take place within two days, or by Wednesday evening. He will need a majority of the House to vote in his favour if he is to stay in his post.

McCarthy and his allies have insisted that he is ready to stare down the challenge. Minutes after Gaetz’s motion, McCarthy responded on X, formerly Twitter: “Bring it on.”

But McCarthy has little room for manoeuvre, given Republicans control the lower chamber of Congress by a very small margin. If Gaetz is backed by more than a handful of Republican rebels, McCarthy will need a crucial number of Democratic lawmakers to cross the political aisle and save him from losing the Speaker’s gavel.

The Democratic leadership in the House has not said how it would instruct its members to vote. Yet McCarthy almost certainly will not have the support of all Democrats.

Pramila Jayapal, the Democratic congresswoman from Washington state and influential head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has said repeatedly that her group would not “save McCarthy”.

But other Democrats have been wary of handing Gaetz a win. Steve Cohen, the Democratic congressman from Tennessee, told Axios that McCarthy “did the right thing . . . and I’ll definitely vote not to vacate. I expect a good number of Democrats will as well.”

Gaetz has been a thorn in McCarthy’s side since January, when he was arguably his chief tormentor, refusing to back the California congressman in his quest for the Speaker’s gavel. McCarthy was elected Speaker on the record 15th round of voting, after Gaetz switched a No vote to “Present”.

But Gaetz increased his pressure on the Speaker at the weekend, after McCarthy brokered a bipartisan deal to avert the looming government shutdown.

On Friday, 21 Republican rebels, including Gaetz, voted against a temporary government funding proposal put forward by McCarthy that included steep budget cuts, a crucial sticking point for Democrats.

On Saturday, McCarthy returned with a fresh proposal to keep government funding at current levels until mid-November. That deal was accepted by House Democrats, even though it did not include additional aid for Ukraine. But it cost McCarthy the backing of 90 members of his own conference, who opposed the measure.

Gaetz has insisted McCarthy deserves retribution for working with Democrats. But several of the rebels who voted against the compromise deal on Saturday, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, the hardline Republican congresswoman from Georgia, have since said they do not believe McCarthy should be ousted.

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