Simmering tensions between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) are boiling over as the Florida Republican heightens his threat to oust the GOP leader from his post.
The bitterness between the two GOP lawmakers — which stretches back to the Speaker’s race in January — hit a fever pitch on Tuesday when Gaetz warned that he would force a vote on taking McCarthy’s gavel if the California Republican did not meet a series of demands on spending and legislation.
McCarthy shot back in an expletive-laden rant Thursday, daring Gaetz to “file the f‑‑‑ing motion” to try and boot him from the Speakership.
While the war of words between the pair of Republicans is nothing new, the current clash comes at a precarious moment for the House GOP conference, as McCarthy navigates the fine line of avoiding a government shutdown without angering his right flank to the point of losing his gavel.
Tensions between McCarthy and Gaetz were on the rise over August recess, with the Florida Republican warning the Speaker that he could lose his gavel if he stands in the way of Gaetz’s efforts to force votes on impeachment.
Gaetz had also been voicing frustration about McCarthy not following through on priorities he raised during the Speaker’s race.
That posturing culminated with a fiery floor speech on Tuesday, when Gaetz sent a clear warning shot to McCarthy — even after the Speaker launched an impeachment inquiry into Biden without holding a formal vote. The Florida Republican dubbed the inquiry a “baby step.”
“I rise today to serve notice: Mr. Speaker, you are out of compliance with the agreement that allowed you to assume this role,” Gaetz said in his floor speech. “The path forward for the House of Representatives is to either bring you into immediate, total compliance or remove you pursuant to a motion to vacate the chair.”
Upping the pressure another notch, a coalition of conservatives on Wednesday blocked an effort to advance legislation funding the Pentagon over demands for deeper spending cuts — amid increased conversations over potentially ousting the Speaker.
The tension was evident the next morning.
“If you want to file a motion to vacate, then file the f‑‑‑ing motion,” McCarthy said during a closed-door GOP conference meeting on Thursday, according to Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.).
The California Republican acknowledged he had displayed “frustration” during the meeting, saying after the gathering that he was “frustrated with some people in the conference” after the Pentagon appropriations bill tanked.
Gaetz responded by saying McCarthy should better handle his emotions.
“Instead of emotionally cursing, maybe the Speaker should just keep his word from January on balanced budgets, term limits and single-subject spending bills,” Gaetz told The Hill.
The battle between McCarthy and Gaetz first came into sharp focus during the drawn-out Speaker’s race in January, when the Floridian Republican withheld support for the GOP leader’s Speakership bid throughout all 15 ballots. In the penultimate round of voting, Gaetz cast the final vote — present — leaving McCarthy with one vote less than he needed to clinch the gavel.
It was during the election for the gavel that McCarthy made a number of concessions to conservatives, including an agreement to decrease the threshold to force a vote on ousting the Speaker from five members to one.
Gaetz said McCarthy also entered into an agreement with conservatives in January that included promises on votes for term limits and a balanced budget plan, and assurances that the House would pass individual spending bills. But the House has yet to vote on that legislation, and McCarthy is eyeing a continuing resolution to keep the government’s lights on past Sept. 30 — which Gaetz objects to.
Departing Washington on Thursday — with just eight legislative days left before the funding deadline — Gaetz pointed to the Speaker’s race as the foundation for his clash with McCarthy.
“I’ll tell you how I got there,” Gaetz said when asked how the feud came to the fore this week. “You know, during the August work period, I spent time with Americans from Florida to Arizona to California, and I got a common question: ‘Has the deal you made with McCarthy been followed through, or are you going to do anything about it?’”
“And, you know, I feel compelled to hold him to comply with the deal we made in January,” he added.
Asked if there were any ongoing efforts to negotiate between just the two men, Gaetz claimed McCarthy “never calls, he never writes.”
“There’s not much to negotiate. We did the negotiation in January,” the Florida Republican added. “We’re not going to pay twice for the same hostage. We want full compliance with the deal we made in January.”
McCarthy, for his part, has said Gaetz is taking him on for personal reasons, claiming that the Florida Republican thinks the Speaker is meddling in his Ethics Committee investigation.
The House Ethics Committee opened a probe into Gaetz in 2021 on allegations that he may have engaged in sexual misconduct, illicit drug use, the sharing of inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, the misuse of state identification records, converting campaigns funds to personal use and the acceptable of a bribe, improper gratuity or an impermissible gift.
The panel eventually deferred its investigation to the Department of Justice (DOJ) per their request, as the congressman was under investigation for alleged sex-trafficking. Gaetz’s office announced in February that the DOJ had concluded its probe and decided not to charge him.
But in June, Punchbowl News reported that the Ethics Committee restarted its investigation into Gaetz, and one month later, CNN and ABC News said the panel was contacting witnesses for the probe.
Gaetz has not publicly accused McCarthy of playing a role in his Ethics Committee investigation. The Speaker, however, thinks that is the source of his conservative colleague’s frustration and not how the appropriations and legislative processes are being handled.
“I don’t think that’s the real problem that Matt’s most concerned about,” McCarthy told Fox News’s Sean Hannity Wednesday, referring to appropriations and legislation.
“Unfortunately, Matt had an Ethics complaint against him in the last Congress. He thinks he can use this to try to include,” McCarthy continued. “I’m never gonna influence an independent committee.”
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), a member of the Ethics Committee, also tied Gaetz’s frustration to the Ethics panel, underscoring that the Speaker is not involved in the group’s decisions.
“I understand Rep. Gaetz has some issue with the Speaker ‘cause he thinks somehow that might help him with his Ethics matter. I’m on Ethics, I’m not gonna get into it, but I could I could tell you one thing, in my two terms now with being on there Speaker McCarthy has never spoke to me about any case, and he certainly is going to continue to treat every member the same. And if Gaetz doesn’t like his treatment, well he’s a gang of one,” Joyce told CNN’s “Inside Politics” on Monday.
But Gaetz is vehemently rejecting that theory.
“I am the most investigated man in the entire Congress, and right there you saw Kevin McCarthy lying like a dead dog because I have never asked him to interfere in any Ethics matter,” Gaetz said on MSNBC’s “The Beat with Ari Melber” on Wednesday.
He said McCarthy’s implication that he wanted special treatment in regards to the complaint is “an abject lie from a sad and pathetic man who lies to hold onto power.”
Gaetz on Thursday took the feud a step further, giving McCarthy a nickname on X: “McFailure.”