He’s History: McCarthy Ousted as House Speaker in Unprecedented Vote

He’s History: McCarthy Ousted as House Speaker in Unprecedented Vote

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

It took Kevin McCarthy 15 votes to win the House speakership in January, but just one vote to lose his hold on the office 10 months later.

Thanks to the efforts of a small minority of far-right Republican lawmakers led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, the House on Tuesday voted 216 to 210 to oust McCarthy from his position as speaker, driving the lower chamber into a period of leaderless uncertainty that threatens to leave Congress in a state of chaos.

Eight Republicans voted against McCarthy: Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Eli Crane of Arizona, Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia, Nance Mace of South Carolina and Matt Rosendale of Montana.

The historic vote came less than 24 hours after Gaetz moved to challenge McCarthy through what’s called a motion to vacate, a parliamentary maneuver that hasn’t been used to try to remove a speaker in more than 100 years and had never been used successfully.

Gaetz said he was compelled to act against his own leadership by McCarthy’s willingness to work with Democrats in passing a stopgap funding bill that prevented a government shutdown last weekend — and, more broadly, McCarthy’s failure to adhere to strict conservative principles.

“The Office of Speaker of the House of the United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant,” presiding Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas said as he closed the vote.

Throughout the day, Gaetz rejected criticism that he was a chaos agent, and that his mutiny opened the door to deep political disorder. Instead, he argued that he is fighting the chaos that already defines Washington.

“I don’t think voting against Kevin McCarthy is chaos,” Gaetz said on the floor of the House during debate over his motion to vacate. “I think $33 trillion in debt is chaos. I think that facing a $2.2 trillion annual deficit is chaos. I think that not passing single-subject spending bills is chaos. I think the fact that we have been governed in this country since the mid-‘90s by continuing resolution and omnibus is chaos. And the way to liberate ourselves from that is a series of reforms to this body that I would hope would outlast Speaker McCarthy’s time here, would outlast my time here and would outlast either of our majorities.”

How we got here: As part of his effort to win the speakership earlier this year, McCarthy agreed to allow any single member of the House to file a motion to vacate at any time, giving the Republican far-right enormous leverage over him. Some of those conservatives think that McCarthy was outmaneuvered by Democrats during the negotiations last spring over the debt ceiling and the 2024 budget, and the short-term budget agreement McCarthy reached with Democrats this past weekend was the final straw. Hardliners want to slash spending in 2024, violating the deal McCarthy made with Democrats, and want to elect a leader who has the same objective, on this and other issues, many of them related to budgeting and spending.

What happens next: The House needs to elect a speaker. Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina is now the acting speaker, having been selected by McCarthy at the beginning of the year. Among Republicans, no one other than McCarthy has expressed interest in holding the position. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the current House majority leader, has been cited as one possibility, including by Gaetz, but he is battling cancer and may not be able to handle the demands of the office at the moment. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the Republican whip, has also been named as a possible candidate, though he has rejected the idea. Another Republican name you may hear again is Kevin McCarthy. Although he has been removed from the speakership, there is nothing preventing him from winning the office again.

The bottom line: A speaker has never been removed through a motion to vacate before (a similar effort failed in 1910), so Tuesday’s turn of events leaves Congress in uncharted territory. It doesn’t appear that the leader of the mutiny against McCarthy has a plan for what comes next, and Republicans will need to scramble to find someone who is willing to take the post and able to win enough votes to do so. Until that happens, the House is stuck in limbo, continuing the dysfunction that has been a hallmark of this Congress.