Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership position is in peril after his most outspoken Republican critic, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, said on Sunday he would follow through on threats to try to remove Mr. McCarthy from the job.
Mr. Gaetz’s announcement came a day after Mr. McCarthy, in a stunning reversal, turned to Democrats to help him steer a 45-day stopgap spending bill through the House. The backlash was almost immediate, as Republican hard-liners left the Capitol on Saturday complaining that Mr. McCarthy had sold them out by working with Democrats. They questioned whether he deserved to keep his job.
“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid,” Mr. Gaetz said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, promising in the next few days to bring up a measure called a “motion to vacate.’’ The move prompts a snap vote on whether to keep the speaker in his post. “I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy.”
Mr. Gaetz’s move is the culmination of a monthslong power struggle between Mr. McCarthy and far-right members of his party, who sought to deprive him of the speaker’s gavel in January and shut down the House floor this spring to protest a bipartisan deal Mr. McCarthy struck with President Biden to raise the debt ceiling.
The possibility that Mr. McCarthy might face calls for his ouster has loomed over him since he took the job. Because of a concession he offered to right-wing holdouts in exchange for the speakership, any single lawmaker can call for a removal vote.
But on Sunday, Mr. McCarthy shrugged off the threat, predicting that Mr. Gaetz’s effort to remove him would fail. He said Mr. Gaetz was motivated by a petty grudge rather than a substantive dispute.
“I’ll survive,” Mr. McCarthy said during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “You know this is personal with Matt.” He accused Mr. Gaetz of being “more interested in securing TV interviews than doing something.”
“So be it, bring it on,” Mr. McCarthy added. “Let’s get over with it and let’s start governing. 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.”
For several weeks, Mr. Gaetz has threatened to topple Mr. McCarthy. He complained that the speaker had reneged on several promises he made to Republican hard-liners to win their support to become speaker, including demands for deep spending cuts. In Sunday’s CNN interview, he accused Mr. McCarthy of lying to his G.O.P. members during spending negotiations and making a “secret deal” with Democrats concerning future funding for Ukraine. He and dozens of other conservative Republicans oppose more aid to Ukraine.
“Nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” Mr. Gaetz said, predicting that the only way Mr. McCarthy would remain speaker by week’s end is “if Democrats bail him out.”
Though most House Republicans still support keeping Mr. McCarthy on as speaker, Mr. Gaetz’s plans pose an existential threat to his tenure because of the slim majority the G.O.P. holds in the chamber. If Democrats were to vote against Mr. McCarthy — as is almost always the case when a speaker of the opposing party is being elected — Mr. Gaetz would need only a handful of Republicans to join the opposition to remove him, which requires a simple majority vote.
To avoid that fate, at least some Democrats would have to either vote to keep Mr. McCarthy in office, skip the vote or vote “present” — neither for or against. That would lower the threshold for a majority and make it easier to defeat Mr. Gaetz’s motion.
It is not clear whether Democrats would help Mr. McCarthy. They are angry that he recently announced that the House was opening an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Biden, despite lacking evidence of wrongdoing. Most Democrats regard Mr. McCarthy as an untrustworthy figure who has spent months catering to the whims of his right wing.
He has turned to Democrats only when his back is against the wall, as he did in the spring to avoid a federal debt default and again on Saturday to keep the government open.
“I believe that it’s up to the Republican conference to determine their own leadership and deal with their own problems, but it’s not up to Democrats to save Republicans,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on “State of the Union.”
Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said she would “absolutely” vote to remove Mr. McCarthy. She called him a weak leader who had lost control of the chamber’s Republicans and was skeptical that he could offer Democrats anything to gain their help.
“I don’t think we give up votes for free,” she said.
When asked whether Democrats should help protect Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Biden declined to weigh in. “I don’t have a vote on that matter,” he said on Sunday. “I’ll leave that to the leadership of the House and the Senate.”
Mr. McCarthy said in his “Face the Nation” interview that the House minority leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, had not told him how he might vote on a motion to oust the speaker.
It is also unclear how many Republicans Mr. Gaetz might rally to vote against Mr. McCarthy over the next few days. Representative Eli Crane, Republican of Arizona and another critic of the speaker, seemed to endorse Mr. Gaetz’s crusade on Sunday. He wrote “Let’s roll!” and posted a video of Mr. Gaetz’s CNN appearance on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
But Representative Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, who has criticized Mr. McCarthy but also clashed with Mr. Gaetz in recent weeks, said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday” that he had not decided how he would vote on a motion to remove Mr. McCarthy.
“I think he is in trouble,” Mr. Donalds said of Mr. McCarthy, adding that he would “really have to think about” how he planned to vote.
Still, Mr. Gaetz expressed confidence that he would eventually rally enough votes among Democrats and Republicans to oust Mr. McCarthy as speaker, even if his opening attempt this week fails.
“I might not have them the first time, but I might have them before the 15th ballot,” Mr. Gaetz said on ABC’s “This Week.” It was a pointed reference to the number of attempts it took Mr. McCarthy to secure his speakership in January. He added, “I am relentless, and I will continue to pursue this objective.”
Mr. Gaetz did not say whom he would like to see replace Mr. McCarthy as speaker. He argued that it would be unfair to speculate while the House’s second-highest-ranking Republican, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, is being treated for cancer.
“I want to see how Steve Scalise comes out of that,” Mr. Gaetz said.
That left open the possibility that the top post in the House could remain vacant for some time, with Mr. McCarthy forced out and nobody else able to muster the votes to replace him.
The situation has left mainstream Republicans in competitive districts fuming.
Representative Mike Lawler, Republican of New York, accused Mr. Gaetz of being “duplicitous” and engaging in a “diatribe of delusional thinking.”
In an interview on ABC that aired just after Mr. Gaetz’s appearance, Mr. Lawler accused Mr. Gaetz of breaking faith with the House G.O.P. when a majority of the chamber’s Republicans did not share his animus toward Mr. McCarthy. He also argued that the move would undermine all of the work Republicans had done to advance their conservative policy agenda.
“This will all be torpedoed by one person who wants to put a motion to vacate for personal, political reasons,” Mr. Lawler said, noting, “We have to work together as a team.”
Chris Cameron and Katie Rogers contributed reporting.