Democrats sided with far-right Republicans on Tuesday to strip McCarthy of his post in a historic first for Congress
Kevin McCarthy has been ousted as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives following an unprecedented motion to remove him from the nation's third-highest post.
In a historic recall vote, the House voted 216-210 on Tuesday to strip McCarthy of his leadership role, after far-right Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz filed a long shot "motion to vacate" the night before.
The motion only required a simple majority vote to succeed, which was reached with the help of House Democrats. Shortly after McCarthy announced that he would not make a deal with Democrats in order to earn their backing, Minority House Leader Hakeem Jeffries reportedly directed his caucus to vote for new leadership.
Republican officials attempted to push the recall vote to a later date so that they could have more time to lobby defectors, but the motion to table failed on Tuesday afternoon.
McCarthy's ousting marks the first time in the nation's history that a House speaker has been removed, and the first time in 113 years that the House has formally sought to oust its speaker.
In modern history, two Republican speakers have faced threats of removal — Newt Gingrich in 1998 and John Boehner in 2015 — but both stepped down before formal action was taken. Gingrich and Boehner chose to not only resign from the speakership, but also to leave Congress.
The effort to oust McCarthy was initiated by the furthest-right members of the Republican Party, who have been waiting for an opportunity to remove him since he was first elected speaker in January.
In order to secure enough support to become speaker — which required a contentious 15 rounds of voting at the start of the legislative session — McCarthy made major concessions to far-right members, including enacting a rule that would allow any one Republican to trigger a recall vote if they were dissatisfied with him. That rule ultimately backfired.
In the months since McCarthy became speaker, House Republicans have struggled to stay in sync, with the right-wing Freedom Caucus routinely opposing the party's agenda, particularly on budget matters.
To successfully remove McCarthy, Gaetz and his allies needed widespread support from Democrats, which initially appeared unlikely.
“The one thing I agree with my Democrat colleagues on is that for the last eight months, this House has been poorly led and we own that and we have to do something about it,” Gaetz said on the floor days before filing the motion to vacate. “And you know what? My Democrat colleagues will have an opportunity to do something about that, too. And we will see if they bail out our failed speaker.”
Many House Democrats had expressed dissatisfaction with McCarthy's leadership long before the recall vote — frustrations that escalated after the speaker launched an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden during urgent government shutdown negotiations (and without substantial evidence). When a looming government shutdown was temporarily kicked down the line over the weekend, McCarthy blamed Democrats for the near-failure on Face the Nation, despite that more Democrats voted to avert the shutdown than Republicans.
Without a clear successor in place for McCarthy, Democrats risk clearing a path for more conservative leadership by turning on the speaker.
Still, as he urged his party to vote against McCarthy on Tuesday morning, Leader Jeffries posted on X that "[Republicans] must find a way to end the House Republican Civil War," suggesting that his caucus's ultimate goal was to get the House back in order by offering the House GOP an opportunity to recalibrate.
Who Will Replace Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker?
With McCarthy out of Congress' top spot, the search for a successor who can unify Republicans is under way.
According to The Washington Post, House rules required McCarthy to provide a secret list of "speakers-in-waiting" when he was elected — in other words, a possible temporary succession plan for if he were to vacate the role. But due to the unprecedented nature of an ouster, it's unclear if a temporary speaker would have the power to conduct business as usual, or only oversee a new speaker election (in which case the House could be frozen until a successor is elected).
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise — who is more conservative than McCarthy — would be the obvious replacement as the House GOP's No. 2, though his ongoing treatment for blood cancer would potentially prevent him from stepping in immediately. The idea of appointing a caretaker speaker to steer the ship until Scalise is able to assume the position has reportedly been floated, though not in an official capacity.
CNN reported that Gaetz has proposed Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer to House Democrats as possible replacements.
McCarthy's deadlocked speaker election earlier this year proved that Republicans will have a hard time finding a candidate whom moderate and right-wing members can agree on.
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