Speaker Kevin McCarthy was voted out of the job Tuesday in an extraordinary showdown — a first in U.S. history, forced by a contingent of hard-right conservatives and throwing the House and its Republican leadership into chaos.
It’s nearing the end of the political line for McCarthy, who has said repeatedly that he never gives up, but now has almost no options remaining. Neither the right-flank Republicans who engineered his ouster nor the Democrats who piled on seem open to negotiating.
McCarthy told lawmakers Tuesday evening he would not run again for speaker, putting the gavel up for grabs. Next steps are highly uncertain as there is no obvious successor to lead the House Republican majority.
McCarthy’s chief rival, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, orchestrated the rare vote on the obscure “motion to vacate,” and pushed ahead swiftly into a dramatic afternoon roll call.
While McCarthy enjoyed support from most Republicans in his slim majority, eight Republican detractors — many of the same hard-right holdouts who tried to stop him from becoming speaker in January —
essentially forced him out. Stillness fell as the presiding officer gaveled the vote closed, 216-210, saying the office of the speaker “is hereby declared vacant.”
Moments later, a top McCarthy ally, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., took the gavel and, according to House rules, was named speaker pro tempore, to serve in the office until a new speaker is chosen.
The House then briskly recessed as lawmakers prepared to meet privately and discuss the path forward. It was a stunning moment for McCarthy, a punishment fueled by growing grievances but sparked by his weekend decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown.
But in many ways, McCarthy’s ouster was set in motion when, in deal-making with hard-right holdouts at the start of the year, he agreed to a series of demands — including a rules change that allowed any single lawmaker to file the motion to vacate. As the House fell silent, Gaetz, a top ally of Donald Trump, rose to offer his motion.