WASHINGTON (CN) — Just nine months after he was elected to lead the Republican party’s House majority, Kevin McCarthy’s tenure as House speaker is at an end Tuesday afternoon, as Democrats joined right wing Republicans in a vote to kick him off the dais.
It’s the first time in history the House has successfully voted to remove its top lawmaker.
In a tightly contested, 216-210 vote the lower chamber approved Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz’s motion to vacate the office of the speakership. The move strips McCarthy of his title and leaves a yawning power vacuum at the top of the Republican party.
McCarthy’s ouster also puts the House’s legislative business in suspended animation until Congress can elect a new speaker.
Eight GOP lawmakers joined the House Democrat caucus in passing the motion to remove McCarthy. It was a minority of the chamber’s Republican votes, but more than enough to secure victory for Gaetz and his allies.
Ironically, the groundwork for Tuesday’s motion was first laid in January as part of a deal then-Congressman McCarthy made with right wing lawmakers as he ascended to the speakership.
Under the agreement, reached as House Republicans undertook marathon deliberations to select their new congressional leader, the California lawmaker agreed to pursue a laundry list of conservative policy objectives if elected speaker. McCarthy also reportedly agreed to right wing demands that any member of Congress be allowed to file a motion to vacate the speakership should they become dissatisfied with his work.
Nine months later, that deal has come back to haunt the former speaker.
The man at the helm of McCarthy’s political demise, Florida Congressman Gaetz has in recent months fashioned himself as one of the former speaker’s staunchest critics. The lawmaker has said McCarthy reneged on his promises to right wing Republicans, such as pursuing term limits for members of Congress and reforming federal budget negotiations.
The last straw for Gaetz, however, came over the weekend as McCarthy reached across party lines and worked with Democrats to pass a short-term stopgap budget bill — a move that averted a costly government shutdown after weeks of Republican infighting over federal spending.
Gaetz’s complaints are shared by only a small minority of the Republican caucus. Most GOP lawmakers have stood by former Speaker McCarthy, blasting the Florida Republican for what they see as a shortsighted move that puts in jeopardy Republican efforts to check President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
“This is a sad day, and not a day I expected to live through,” said Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole during floor remarks Monday. “The overwhelming majority of my party supports the speaker that we elected. We’re proud of the leadership he’s shown.”
Without naming Gaetz directly, Cole accused the lawmaker and his allies of working to “plunge this body into chaos, and the country into uncertainty, for reasons that only they really understand.”
“Chaos is Speaker McCarthy,” Gaetz fired back. “Chaos is somebody who we cannot trust with their word.”
Virginia Republican Bob Good, who supported McCarthy’s ouster, said he was sad Congress had arrived at what he framed as “a totally avoidable situation,” but raked the former speaker over the coals for his handling of budget negotiations and his decision to work with the White House during May’s debt ceiling crisis.
“We need a speaker who will fight for something, anything, besides just staying or becoming speaker,” Good said, accusing McCarthy of “surrendering to the Democrats” in spending talks.
Meanwhile, the mood was solemn in the House chamber following the vote to oust McCarthy.
Announcing that “the office of speaker of the House of the United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant,” North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry ended the lower chamber’s session with a forceful, angry crack of the speaker’s gavel.
McHenry will be the House’s interim leader until a new speaker is elected.
McCarthy had yet to make a public statement about his removal as of Tuesday afternoon.
Some Republican lawmakers backed the former speaker, arguing that GOP policy priorities should come first.
“Now is not the time to remove the Speaker,” said Colorado Representative Lauren Boebert in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. While she said she was “frustrated by the broken promises, secret deals, and failed leadership,” forcing Republicans to elect another speaker “undermines [GOP] priorities at the worst possible time.”
“Electing a new Speaker in this environment risks getting a Speaker that makes deals with the Democrats,” said Texas Congressman Ronny Jackson.
Democrats, for their part, pointed out that McCarthy’s ouster was largely of his own design.
“Kevin McCarthy’s sycophantic appeasement of Trump’s MAGA enablers brought to our body chaos, extremism and his own toppling,” said Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin. “Today, unified behind our exceptional leadership, Democrats are clearly the only party capable of ending the dysfunction and governing for the common good.”
Until the House elects a new speaker, lawmakers cannot move forward with legislative business. Such a freeze comes as Congress has a little over a month to approve a federal budget for 2024 — the stopgap measure negotiated by former Speaker McCarthy and House Democrats over the weekend only funds the government through mid-November.Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
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