Speaker Kevin McCarthy faces a momentous challenge to his leadership after one of his most outspoken Republican critics repeated a threat on Monday to try to remove him as retribution for working with Democrats to avert a government shutdown.
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, said he planned to move ahead with a resolution to oust Mr. McCarthy, which would prompt a snap vote on whether to remove him as speaker. In an appeal from the House floor, Mr. Gaetz accused the speaker of partnering with President Biden to advance Democratic policies.
“It is becoming increasingly clear who the speaker of the House already works for, and it’s not the Republican conference,” Mr. Gaetz said. He added later that Mr. McCarthy had allowed Mr. Biden to take his “lunch money in every negotiation.”
Mr. Gaetz cited Mr. McCarthy’s reliance on Democratic votes to push through the funding bill — a move that was necessary to avert a shutdown because Mr. Gaetz and 20 of his colleagues had opposed a temporary spending bill that was written by Republicans.
And he accused Mr. McCarthy of lying to his members during spending negotiations and making a “secret deal” with Democrats about funding for Ukraine, which he and dozens of other conservatives have opposed.
Mr. Gaetz’s invocation of Ukraine funding — an issue that has become politically toxic among the Republican base — appeared to be an effort to draw more members to his cause. He implored Mr. McCarthy to “tell us what was in the secret Ukraine side deal,” adding that “members of the Republican Party might vote differently on a motion to vacate if they heard what the speaker had to share with us.”
Mr. Gaetz had promised on Sunday to try to remove Mr. McCarthy this week, but has not said which day or how many Republicans he expected might join him. He told reporters at the Capitol on Monday that he intended to continue forcing votes to oust Mr. McCarthy if his first attempt was unsuccessful.
“It took Speaker McCarthy 15 votes to become the speaker,” Mr. Gaetz said. “Until I get to 14 or 15, I don’t think I’m being any more dilatory.”
His threat is the peak of a monthslong power struggle between Mr. McCarthy and his right flank that began in January, when party hard-liners refused to back his bid to become speaker. The tension escalated this spring, when they brought House floor proceedings to a halt to protest a bipartisan deal that Mr. McCarthy had struck with Mr. Biden to suspend the debt limit.
The speaker has shrugged off Mr. Gaetz’s threats. In an interview on Sunday, he predicted that he would survive the effort to depose him and dismissed Mr. Gaetz as “more interested in securing TV interviews than doing something.”
“If he’s upset because he tried to push us into a shutdown and I made sure the government didn’t shut down, then let’s have that fight,” Mr. McCarthy said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Mr. McCarthy knew his dramatic about-face on the spending bill might put his speakership at risk. Over the summer and until the final hours of the spending bill fight, he had tried to cater to his party’s right wing by putting increasingly conservative appropriations bills on the House floor. He also insisted that any stopgap measure include steep budget cuts and significant border security measures.
But on Saturday, the speaker abandoned those demands and turned to Democrats for help passing a bill to extend government funding without cuts and with billions of dollars for disaster relief. Almost all the Democrats in the House ended up backing the bill. Nearly half of Republicans voted against it.
Mr. Gaetz’s antics have infuriated Mr. McCarthy’s allies, who view the Florida Republican’s campaign as a publicity stunt motivated by personal animus. As Mr. Gaetz waited to speak on the House floor on Monday, Representative Tom McClintock, Republican of California, rose and chastised him to his face without naming him. Mr. McClintock said he could not “conceive of a more counterproductive and self-destructive course” than to try to remove one’s own party’s speaker.
“I implore my Republican colleagues to look past their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views,” Mr. McClintock said.
The future of Mr. McCarthy’s tenure as speaker will also depend on how Democrats vote this week. The Republicans’ slim House majority means that if Democrats vote in unison against Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Gaetz would need only a handful of members to remove the speaker. If Democrats side with Mr. McCarthy or vote “present” — neither for nor against — or simply do not show up at all, it could lower the threshold for a majority enough for Mr. McCarthy’s supporters to protect him.
But it is not clear if Democrats will rally to rescue Mr. McCarthy the way they did to keep the federal government open. Most House Democrats consider him an unreliable partner, particularly since he waited until the last minute to meet them in the middle over the spending fight. Many are also angry with him for announcing last month that the House would begin an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Biden, despite no evidence of personal wrongdoing.
“It’s not up to Democrats to save Republicans,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. She added that she would “absolutely” vote to remove Mr. McCarthy and called him a weak leader.