20231003 kevin
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy Image Credit: Washington Post

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to allow a leadership challenge to Republican Kevin McCarthy, in a sign that he could be removed from his job as speaker.

By a vote of 218-208, the Republican-controlled House rejected a motion advanced by McCarthy allies that would have derailed an effort by Representative Matt Gaetz, a McCarthy antagonist, to potentially remove him from his post.

McCarthy now faces a vote by the full House on whether to strip him of his speakership. That vote could come later on Tuesday following debate.

If successful, it would be the first time in U.S. history that House lawmakers voted their leader out.

"We'll see what happens," McCarthy, 58, told reporters before the vote.

Three days ago Republican infighting took Washington to the brink of a partial government shutdown.

McCarthy's party controls the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, and it would take as few as five Republican defections to threaten his hold on power if all Democrats also voted against him.

Some 207 Democrats and 11 Republicans rejected the effort to defeat Gaetz's motion. No Democrats sided with McCarthy.

Democrats broadly view McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke an agreement on spending with Democratic President Joe Biden, and are angered by his decision to green-light an impeachment investigation of the president.

Several said they would not help Republicans resolve their own problems.

"Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence," said Representative Pramila Jayapal, who leads a group of progressive Democratic lawmakers.

There is also little inclination in the White House to help McCarthy, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

McCarthy said he did not expect Democratic support.

Gaetz, 41, and other far-right Republicans are angered that McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to pass a temporary funding extension on Saturday that headed off a partial government shutdown. A faction of about 20 Republicans, Gaetz included, had forced McCarthy's hand by repeatedly blocking other legislation.

Gaetz was one of more than a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy's bid for speaker in January.

McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting.

Gaetz allies said they were frustrated by the slow pace of spending legislation on McCarthy's watch.

But over the past few days, other Republicans have said Gaetz was motivated by a hunger for publicity, a chance to win higher office, or resentment over an ongoing ethics probe into possible sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.

"It seems very personal with Matt. It doesn't look like he's looking out for the country or the institution," McCarthy said.

Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he is not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.

Other Republicans said they should focus on legislating, rather than infighting.

"This country does not need more drama," said Republican Representative Steve Womack.