The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

With McCarthy out, the Freedom Caucus has taken control

The ousting of McCarthy shows how Matt Gaetz has always been out for revenge
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) walks away from the U.S. Capitol after his motion to vacate the chair of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and end McCarthy’s continued leadership succeeded by a vote of 216-210, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. October 3, 2023.

As of writing this, the United States House of Representatives has been without a speaker for over two weeks. It’s not hard to understand how this came to be.

On October 3, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida announced his intention to oust Kevin McCarthy from the position. In a speech to the entire house chamber, Gaetz voiced his frustrations against the Californian’s policymaking tactics. “It is astonishing to hear any colleague give Speaker McCarthy credit for moving on to the single subject appropriations bills,” he stated at the beginning.

However, at the end of his message, Gaetz also expressed a sentiment of “patriotism,” saying, “The American people have been getting screwed decade after decade, and I’m not going to tolerate it any longer.”

Since McCarthy waved goodbye to his position, the chamber has grown ineffective and weak. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement: After all, without a proper Speaker, the House cannot progress through any legislative work––most notably, funding the government to ensure that it doesn’t shut down in the coming weeks.

But while the ousting of McCarthy has halted productivity in the House, it is important also to recognize why the body has gotten to this point. Thus, it must be asked what motivated Gaetz to initiate the campaign against McCarthy.

Among all the hostilities within the DC political atmosphere, the one between the two congressmen is the most noticeable to fellow politicians and media outlets. Moreover, their tensions originated from one period of scandals that nearly cost Gaetz his job.

Over two years earlier, Gaetz had been facing multiple allegations––one of sexual misconduct towards an underage girl, and another of sharing inappropriate images on the House floor. Although he could have ignored these charges, McCarthy allowed an ethics investigation against the Florida congressman to move forward in the House. And while Gaetz eventually emerged from the investigation unscathed, he could see that the tides had turned against him.

Gaetz had found his enemy in the then-House Minority Leader. Fast forward to January 2023, and McCarthy became Speaker of the House after a record fifteen rounds of voting. In the previous round, Gaetz, along with Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, voted “present”–– a form of protest for House members in which they are in the chamber at the time of the vote but choose not to select a candidate. Their actions, in turn, prompted McCarthy to walk over to Gaetz, seemingly to negotiate.

In the end, McCarthy emerged victorious when only three other Republicans joined Gaetz in voting “present.” It’s no surprise, then, that nine months later, these same three joined Gaetz in voting to oust the speaker.

Even before McCarthy had won the position in January, Gaetz was trying everything he could to make sure that he wouldn’t gain power. Then, in the months leading up to his ousting initiative, Gaetz made claims of McCarthy’s ineffective stances and criticized his willingness to hold votes for sending aid to Ukraine, saying that he was “baiting Republicans to vote for a continuing resolution without Ukraine money” and “making a secret deal with the Democrats.”

But even if these were Gaetz’s true opinions, they were not part of his motivation to expel McCarthy. The fifteen rounds of voting that it took to give the seat to the former speaker in the first place––long before Gaetz expressed those complaints––prove this point.

Furthermore, Gaetz’s back-and-forth fight with the former speaker has demonstrated, if anything, his desire to make a show out of the process of nominating the most important figure in the House of Representatives. Thus, the ousting process was never about “the American people getting screwed over.” Instead, it was Gaetz’s way of getting back at McCarthy for not standing with him two years earlier.

Currently, as the House has been trying to fill the position, it has been dealing with the same roadblocks from its initial January election. While Ohio representative Jim Jordan won the internal GOP nomination for Speaker, he has failed to obtain a majority of votes after the first two rounds, with 200 Republicans vying for him and 20 others picking different candidates.

In turn, just as Kevin McCarthy had a hard time finding the right number of votes needed to win the position of speaker, Jordan is in the same boat. Now, the same old game played by the Freedom Caucus—the far-right group of Matt Gaetz and his political cronies who assisted in holding up the January vote—will likely occur again: The rounds will continue, its members will throw in random votes, and the speaker’s chair will remain empty.

And while all this takes place, the former image of Matt Gaetz sitting complacently in the House Chamber during the January voting rounds will stand as a reminder of his desire for revenge.

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