WASHINGTON ― Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had his speaker’s gavel taken away Tuesday after a vote by the House of Representatives in a startlingly quick fall from power partially triggered by this weekend’s deal to keep the government open.
The vote was stunning, marking the first use of a parliamentary mechanism dating from the early 1900s that had never been successfully used before.
It also left the House in the care of an acting speaker amid deep questions about Republican unity and the ability of the House to function as it’s headed into a crucial few weeks when decisions on annual federal spending and aid to Ukraine need to be made.
McCarthy, in post-vote press conference where he said he will not try to reclaim the speakership, expressed gratitude for getting to be speaker, even as he worried about the House as an institution in the wake of his being toppled.
“I got elected to a seat I couldn’t get an internship for, and I ended up being the 55th speaker of the House. One of the greatest things.”
“I don’t regret standing up and choosing government over grievance,” McCarthy said, a seeming reference to the deal he cut this weekend which was passed with a majority of Democratic votes in the House to keep the government open.
With McCarthy’s ouster, the House enters uncertain territory. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) is the acting speaker while the House awaits a new one. House members saw votes canceled for the rest of the week and are not expected to get around to meeting on selecting a new speaker until next week.
Speculation has already begun on who will replace McCarthy. One obvious possibility is Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the majority leader and second-ranking House Republican headed into the day. But the race could be wide open.
Of course, with McCarthy being the second GOP speaker to be chased out of office by hardliners to his right since 2015, the question may be why any Republican would want the job.
McCarthy laid blame at the feet of Gaetz and his allies, a rule change he agreed to that allowed the ouster process to begin at the behest of only one member and House Democrats, who voted as a bloc in favor of getting rid of him.
McCarthy said Gaetz had demanded the ability to start the ouster process with only one member in January but promised it would never be used.
“The trustworthiness of a lot of individuals makes it difficult,” he said.
By aiding Gaetz and seven other Republicans, McCarthy said Democrats were hurting the House as an institution. Without having the other party vote as a bloc against an ouster move, he said, “then you’re allowing four to five people to control whatever, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t get 96% [of your own party].”
Tuesday’s vote followed a dramatic debate on the floor exclusively between a small group of hard-line House Republicans, led by Gaetz on the anti-McCarthy side and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) in favor of McCarthy.
Gaetz and his allies accused McCarthy of being untrustworthy and too willing to fold to Democrats when the pressure is on.
“Chaos is Speaker McCarthy,” Gaetz said.
Speaking from the Democratic side of the chamber floor, Gaetz gestured toward McCarthy’s supporters and the lawmakers around him, saying that what they all had in common was that McCarthy had told them things “he didn’t really mean and never intended to live up to.”
McCarthy did not make a speech defending his tenure, but he presented supporters from a broad ideological swath of his conference. “The overwhelming majority of my party supports the speaker we elected,” Cole said.
Democrats, who supported McCarthy’s ouster as a bloc, stayed silent through the debate, except to mockingly laugh when one of McCarthy’s supporters claimed he was one of the best speakers in House history.