For the first time in U.S. history, the House voted to remove a speaker Tuesday, ousting Rep. Kevin McCarthy after a bloc of disaffected GOP colleagues joined with Democrats on a 216-210 vote.
The only previous vote to oust a speaker using a “motion to vacate” came in 1910, when Republican Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois easily survived. Despite the dubious milestone, McCarthy’s allies on Tuesday pledged to nominate him in a coming floor race for the gavel, the second since early January.
Republicans voting with Democrats to oust McCarthy were Matt Gaetz of Florida, who offered the motion to vacate the speaker’s office, along with Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Eli Crane of Arizona, Bob Good of Virginia, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, and Matt Rosendale of Montana.
The chamber, with a government shutdown deadline looming again in mid-November, now must elect a new speaker. Generally, that is the job of the majority party — but with the Republican conference splintered, it could take time for another member among their ranks to garner the votes required to secure the gavel.
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., was named speaker pro tempore immediately after the vote, and called for a recess for members to discuss the matter.
“The House will be paralyzed. We can expect week after week of fruitless [speaker] ballots while no other business can be conducted. The Democrats will revel in Republican dysfunction and the public will rightly be repulsed,” Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said before the final vote on McCarthy’s fate. “It will end when the Democrats are able to enlist a rump caucus of Republicans to join a coalition to end the impasse.”
Though McClintock predicted “this House will shift dramatically to the left,” other members interviewed this week said they did not yet see a solution — or a likely 56th speaker of the House.
The House chamber was tense during the first vote series of the day, then during an hour of debate on McCarthy’s fate as critics and so-called “friends of Kevin” rose to say why he should be ousted or keep the job he long has coveted.
Good said during debate on vacating the speakership that McCarthy crossed a “red line” Saturday by posting a relatively clean stopgap spending measure that averted a government shutdown. It passed with mostly Democratic votes and without the severe spending cuts the dissident bloc was demanding.
A top McCarthy ally, Rules Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, called it a “very sad day.” He warned the conservative rebels that voting to remove McCarthy would plunge the chamber into “chaos.” He credited McCarthy for passing several bills, including the stopgap, saying McCarthy did “what a speaker is supposed to do.”
Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, rose to say McCarthy has passed conservative bills, adding “it isn’t his fault” the Senate has yet to pass a single fiscal 2024 full-year spending bill. “I think the speaker has kept his word,” Jordan said. “I think we should keep him as speaker.”
Gaetz led the debate time for the anti-McCarthy group and responded to Jordan’s comments that the speaker’s term in office look, to them, “like failure.” He said “many of the bills he’s passed haven’t become law,” leaving out that it was conservatives’ policy and spending demands that, in part, caused them to sputter on the Senate side, where Democrats have control.
Late in the floor debate, McCarthy ally Garret Graves of Louisiana slammed Gaetz for sending fundraising emails and texts touting the vacate push. “It’s disgusting,” he roared, holding images of those communications up on his smartphone. “This isn’t about fundraising. It’s about our children and our grandchildren.”
Notably, allies of McCarthy did not appear to be working the chamber floor during debate trying to twist arms. McCarthy himself sat silently, listening intently.
Before the final vote, the chamber defeated a motion to table, or kill, a “motion to vacate” the speakership by a 208-218 vote, with every Democrat and 11 Republicans opposed.
As members debated whether or not to oust him, McCarthy had little time to line up enough support to stay in the House’s top job.
House Democrats on Tuesday were not offering any votes to save McCarthy, calling him untrustworthy, unable to manage his rowdy caucus and unwilling to govern.
“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,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a statement. “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.”
The 11 GOP members voting against tabling the motion to vacate were the eight who voted to oust McCarthy plus Warren Davidson of Ohio, Cory Mills of Florida, and Victoria Spartz of Indiana.
As he departed the speaker’s suite and headed for the chamber before the vote to table, McCarthy told reporters he was “feeling good.” Asked if he would want to be on ballot after ballot, if a speaker’s race is triggered, he replied: “We’ll see what happens.”
Earlier Tuesday, the now-former speaker seemed reflective.
“If you throw a speaker out that has 99 percent of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we’re in a really bad place for how we’re going to run Congress,” he said. “”There are obstacles in my life. I have fallen many times.”
During an unrelated vote before the speaker votes, Gaetz shuffled anxiously before sitting in the chamber’s front row, holding a white sheet of paper and a folder. While McCarthy was in his Capitol suite huddle with advisers, Gaetz spent the early afternoon inside the House chamber, but not chatting with other members.
Former President Donald Trump, whom Gaetz said he spoke with earlier this week, posted on his social media network just before the voting started — but did not overtly back McCarthy.
“Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves, why aren’t they fighting the Radical Left Democrats who are destroying our Country?” he posted.
Aidan Quigley, Caitlin Reilly, Mary Ellen McIntire, K. Sophie Will, Jim Saksa, Laura Weiss, David Lerman, Paul M. Krawzak and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.