Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is no longer Speaker of the House.
A small group of House Republicans, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) joined with Democrats to oust him in a 216-210 vote.
Tuesday marks the first time the House has ever voted to remove a sitting Speaker, a historic development that will catapult the chamber into another chaotic Speaker’s race following January’s marathon election.
The House is now in uncharted territory.
The chamber will be run by an acting Speaker — Speaker pro tempore — chosen from a list designated by McCarthy and shared with the House clerk, a process implemented for continuity of government reasons after 9/11. Members in both parties expect that the Speaker pro tempore has the chief responsibility of presiding over a new Speaker election.
Until then, House aides expect the House to be able to do little else — creating a repeat of McCarthy’s historic 15-ballot election in January.
His ouster on Tuesday is inextricably linked to that four-day, 15-ballot saga. In order to sway the 20 holdouts against him and win the gavel, McCarthy agreed to a number of conditions, including changing the threshold to force a vote on ousting the Speaker from five members to just one.
The motion to vacate threat has been hanging over his head ever since.
The Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy from the Speakership largely cited anger over his handling of fiscal issues.
McCarthy on Saturday averted a government shutdown by putting a “clean” stopgap funding bill on the House floor, passing it with the help of Democrats. It was a last resort for McCarthy, who had attempted to pass a GOP funding plan but was blocked by a handful of Republicans — including several who voted to remove him.
McCarthy and his allies think the move is also personal. Gaetz, a chief McCarthy antagonist, had been threatening to force a vote on ousting the Speaker for weeks. McCarthy has said he thinks Gaetz is lashing out at McCarthy over an ethics investigation into him.
But McCarthy’s ouster was in large part the result of Democrats, who announced hours before Tuesday’s votes that they would not protect McCarthy from the handful of rabble-rousers in his own party.
McCarthy had said he would not make a deal with Democrats to save his Speakership, but aimed to appeal to them by arguing that a successful motion to vacate would be bad for the institution of the House.
Democrats were not swayed.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), to whom Democrats were looking for guidance on the motion to vacate, sent a “dear colleague” on Tuesday that Democratic leadership would support the effort to oust McCarthy.
“House Democrats remain willing to find common ground on an enlightened path forward. Unfortunately, our extreme Republican colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same,” Jeffries wrote. “It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War. Given their unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes on the pending Republican Motion to Vacate the Chair.”
Democrats first showed their unity, and willingness to tank McCarthy’s Speakership, in a procedural motion to table the anti-McCarthy motion, which would have killed it. Eleven Republicans joined all Democrats in defeating the motion to table.
The House then moved directly into debate — then a vote — on Gaetz’s resolution to declare the office of the Speaker vacant. Allies and adversaries of McCarthy lined up with speeches in support — and opposition — of the California Republican.
The only other time the House voted on whether to remove a sitting Speaker was in 1910, when Speaker Joe Cannon (R-Ill.) prevailed and kept his gavel. The only other “motion to vacate” attempt was in 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) made a move to oust Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — but it was referred to committee and never received a vote.
When Democrats won control of the chamber after that, they changed the House rules to allow only a party leader to force that vote — an outrage to hardline Republicans.
During debate on the ouster, McCarthy sat in the chamber, looking forward.
“Chaos is Speaker McCarthy. Chaos is somebody who we cannot trust with their word,” Gaetz said on the House floor. “The one thing that the White House, House Democrats and many of us on the conservative side of the Republican Caucus would argue is that the thing we have in common: Kevin McCarthy said something to all of us at one point or another that he didn’t really mean and never intended to live up to.”
“I don’t think voting against Kevin McCarthy is chaos,” he continued. “I think $33 trillion in debt is chaos.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the chair of the House Rules Committee and a close McCarthy ally, was first to speak in defense of the California Republican.
“We’re proud of the leadership he’s shown, we’re proud of the manner in which he’s been willing to work with everybody in our conference and I believe in this chamber,” Cole said.
He later referenced McCarthy’s decision to put a “clean” continuing resolution on the floor to avert a government shutdown.
“He put his political neck on the line knowing this day was coming to do the right thing, the right thing for the country without a doubt, my friends and I agree on that whether or not we agree on the speaker,” Cole said. “He did the right thing. He did the right thing I think for this institution. He showed it could function in a time of crisis.”
Miranda Nazzaro contributed.
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