Florida’s Matt Gaetz makes history by engineering House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster

Jasper Colt/USA TODAY

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida succeeded in ousting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his post on Tuesday, leading the first-ever successful push to remove the speaker through a no-confidence vote on the House floor.

Ultimately, 216 members of Congress voted to boot McCarthy from the speakership, including all 208 Democrats present for the vote. Gaetz was the only member of Florida’s 20-person Republican congressional delegation to vote to remove McCarthy as speaker. Republican U.S. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna was not present for the vote.

“It’s not the best optics for Republicans,” Miami Rep. María Elvira Salazar conceded during a CNN interview following the vote.

McCarthy’s removal effectively leaves the House leaderless and without a clear roadmap for what to do next. Both parties will have to choose nominees for the speakership and it’s unclear whom Republicans will pick.

Gaetz, a conservative firebrand and staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, moved to oust McCarthy from his leadership post on Monday, using a rare procedural move called a motion to vacate to force a vote on whether to remove the speaker. The last motion to vacate to make it to a vote came in 1910.

In pushing the motion to vacate, Gaetz made good on a threat to escalate a long-running war with McCarthy after the speaker relied on Democrats last weekend to help avoid a government shutdown and fund the government through mid-November. Gaetz and a handful of ultra-conservative House Republicans had opposed any government funding mechanism unless it contained deep cuts to federal spending.

But Gaetz’s complaints went far beyond McCarthy’s maneuvering to avoid a shutdown. He accused McCarthy of repeatedly and egregiously violating promises that he made to right-wing members of Congress earlier this year as part of the agreement that ultimately allowed him to become House speaker.

“Kevin McCarthy is a feature of the swamp,” Gaetz told reporters minutes after the vote, calling the California lawmaker’s ouster “the ripping off of the Band-Aid.”

Only seven other House Republicans joined Gaetz in voting to oust McCarthy on Tuesday. But the Florida congressman’s effort got a boost from Democrats, who announced earlier in the day that they had no plans to save McCarthy’s speakership. House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York explained in a letter to his colleagues that it would be up to “GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War.”

In forcing the vote on McCarthy’s speakership, Gaetz intensified the already-deep antipathy many House Republicans already felt toward him. In Washington, he has cultivated a reputation as a hard-right agitator willing to take on members of his own party whom he sees as insufficiently conservative – a reputation that was set in stone by Tuesday’s vote.

Gaetz said Tuesday that he has no interest in becoming the next House Speaker. But his successful ouster of McCarthy has breathed new life into speculation that he’s positioning himself to run for Florida governor in 2026. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, won’t be able to run for reelection due to term limits, setting the stage of an expectedly competitive – and combative – GOP primary.