WASHINGTON — After helping to foment a right-wing rebellion that dealt Representative Kevin McCarthy three humiliating losses on Tuesday in his bid to become speaker, Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, added insult to injury, sending a letter to the Architect of the Capitol accusing the California Republican of illegally occupying the speaker’s office.
“After three undeciding votes, no member can lay claim to this office,” Mr. Gaetz wrote in his letter. “How long will he remain there before he is considered a squatter?”
Mr. McCarthy over the weekend moved his things into the large, ornate suite in the center of the Capitol reserved for the speaker of the House, though he had yet to win the post — or even cement the votes needed to do so.
Mr. Gaetz’s letter was a slap that highlighted how Mr. McCarthy has for years campaigned for the job and assumed he would eventually have it, even telling Republicans privately on Tuesday before the voting commenced that he had earned the position, further rankling his opponents.
Following the failed series of votes, Mr. McCarthy retreated into the office to strategize about his next steps, staying late into the evening.
While Mr. Gaetz may be correct that Mr. McCarthy has no claim to the speaker’s office, the Florida Republican may not have the authority to question the move either.
He sent the letter on his official congressional letterhead, but Mr. Gaetz — like every other incumbent who was re-elected in November — is technically not yet a member of Congress. Because of the speakership debacle, the first time in 100 years that the House has failed to elect a presiding officer on the first vote, House members have yet to be sworn in, which can only be done after a speaker is chosen.
In fact by his own logic, neither Mr. Gaetz nor any other House member would have the right to lay claim to their offices.
The office of the Architect of the Capitol did not immediately respond to requests for comment.