‘Firebrand’: What does US Republican rebel Matt Gaetz want?

That’s how a United States congressman reacted to efforts from his Republican colleague Matt Gaetz to fundraise while leading a push to remove then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.In one of the most dramatic moments from Tuesday’s ouster, Representative Garret Graves held aloft a mobile phone on the House floor, purporting to show text messages from Gaetz’s campaign.

“Using official actions — official actions — to raise money,” Graves said, his voice rising in indignation as he referenced the text messages. “It’s what’s disgusting about Washington.”

Gaetz was in his colleagues’ crosshairs this week as he helmed a successful effort to topple McCarthy, the Republican House leader.

But Gaetz — a controversial figure in US politics — was unfazed. In fact, he went on the attack against Graves and the entire political establishment, a sign of the increasingly fractious nature of the modern Republican Party.

“When it comes to how [to] raise money, I take no lecture on asking patriotic Americans to weigh in and contribute to this fight from those who would grovel and bend knee for the lobbyists and special interests who own our leadership,” Gaetz said, responding to his critics and prompting boos in return.

By the end of Tuesday evening, McCarthy had been booted as the head of the House, and the legislative chamber was in disarray, with no clear leader to direct its business.But experts say McCarthy’s removal was a triumph for anti-establishment figures like Gaetz, underscoring their prominence — and their willingness to use their power in unprecedented ways.A self-described ‘firebrand’
Gaetz has a reputation for inviting political fights, said Adam Cayton, a political science professor at the University of West Florida. The congressman even named his podcast and his 2020 book “Firebrand”.

“He courts the spotlight. He quickly inserts himself into conflict. He puts himself in the centre of the action presumably in order to raise his profile and name recognition,” Cayton told Al Jazeera.

Gaetz, who represents a conservative district in Florida’s Panhandle region, initiated the motion to vacate McCarthy as speaker on Monday, sparking a two-day-long fight to pull the gavel out of the leader’s hands.

He ultimately was joined in his cause by seven Republicans and the entire Democratic caucus, securing a majority in the 435-member chamber. The vote was 216-210 in favour of removing McCarthy.It was the first time in American history that a speaker of the House was expelled from the post.

As speaker, McCarthy presided over a narrow Republican majority in the House — one of two chambers in the US Congress, in charge of passing laws, making budget allocations and exercising oversight over the government.

But that razor-thin majority has made each Republican vote all the more crucial to passing legislation. Gaetz and other Republicans have wielded that power to push forward their political agenda.

So how did Gaetz, a 41-year-old lawmaker with less than seven years’ experience in the House, come to upend the chamber and dethrone its leader?

A former Florida state representative, Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, the same year Donald Trump took office as president. He soon became well-known for his spirited defence of Trump when controversies arose, as they often did.He also embraced isolationist foreign policy and presented himself as unafraid to upset the traditional wing of the Republican Party.

That was apparent in 2023, when Gaetz championed opposition to McCarthy’s speakership bid. Though McCarthy was likewise a Trump ally, Gaetz refused to back him as House leader, resulting in 15 rounds of voting before the speaker was elected.

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