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US House: McCarthy falls to GOP revolt in speakership ouster

October 3, 2023

The top Republican in the House of Representatives has been voted out of his position, thanks to a motion filed by a rebel within his own party.

Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (in lilac tie) is escorted from the House floor after a Tuesday afternoon vote
Kevin McCarthy made history yet again, becoming the first speaker ever voted out of officeImage: Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Members of the US House of Representatives removed Speaker Kevin McCarthy from power in a historic vote Tuesday.

McCarthy's ouster represents the first time in the history of the United States that a speaker — the leader of the House majority and second in line from the presidency behind the vice-president — has been removed from office.

"I ended up being the 55th speaker of the House... one of the greatest honors. I loved every minute," McCarthy told reporters after the vote, making it clear he had no intention to stand again.

"And the one thing I will tell you is doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it is necessary. I don't regret standing up for choosing governance over grievance."

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden urged the House to choose a replacement quickly.

"Because the urgent challenges facing our nation will not wait, he hopes the House will quickly elect a speaker," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina was tapped as speaker pro tempore after McCarthy's seat was vacated. McHenry, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, is a McCarthy ally and spoke in support of him before the vote.

How was McCarthy voted out?

The motion to vacate the California Republican was filed by fellow GOP Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida.

Matt Gaetz speaks to the media
Trump ally Matt Gaetz spoke to the media after the historic developmentImage: Win McNameeGetty Images

On Monday, Gaetz announced in the House: "I have enough Republicans where at this point next week, one of two things will happen: Kevin McCarthy won't be speaker of the House, or he'll be the speaker of the House working at the pleasure of the Democrats."

In the end, he didn't need that long. Tuesday's 216-210 for removal swiftly saw McCarthy gone after a motion to delay the vote failed just prior.

McCarthy's reputation as a comparatively moderate Republican, who has in some cases shown a willingness to compromise with President Joe Biden, ultimately led to his downfall among conservatives.  

US House votes to oust Speaker McCarthy: Ines Pohl reports

Compromise on budget and shutdown prompted attempted removal

Earlier on Tuesday, McCarthy announced that he intended to conduct the ballot in the chamber's first round of votes in the afternoon.

The move came just days after the passing of a 45-day, stop-gap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown.

Gaetz was angered that McCarthy passed the measure with Democratic votes and accused him of working for President Biden, and not his Republican colleagues.

He was also unhappy that McCarthy had come to an agreement with Biden over further funding for Ukraine despite such finances being struck from the emergency 45-day bill known as a Continuing Resolution, or CR.

Many Republicans opposed to the idea of ousting McCarthy, as there was no clear plan in place for how to deal with the eventuality of his removal. That was the motivation for their last-minute motion to table the vote and cancel the process.

Yet that, too, failed by a 208-218 tally, with 11 Republicans voting against delay. 

US Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks with reporters in a basement hallway in the US Capitol
Trump ally Matt Gaetz of Florida has been harassing MCarthy for years and filed the motion to vacateImage: Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo/picture alliance

Gaetz a thorn in McCarthy's side from the start

McCarthy's road to the speakership was arduous and his hold on power had been hanging by a thread throughout his tenure.

Gaetz led opposition to McCarthy taking the gavel and forced him to make concessions to the far-right Freedom Caucus — of which Gaetz is a member — before he would stop blocking him.

One of those concessions was to make it possible for any single member of the House to bring a motion to vacate the speakership, making McCarthy's position inherently unstable even after he secured it.

Republicans have a narrow 221-212 majority in the House

Blocked leadership vote gridlocks US House

Open outcome

When McCarthy was appointed in January, he needed a record 15 rounds of voting before assuming the role. He now becomes the first House leader ever voted out of the speakership.

Ousting the ambitious Californian threatens to throw the House into total chaos, as no Republican has declared a willingness to take up the gavel.

Earlier on Tuesday, McCarthy had said: "I'm an optimist. I put money on myself." That confidence was ultimately misplaced.

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js/msh, jsi (AP, dpa, Reuters)