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After disappointing election, McCarthy’s reign was rocky from the start

Ouster followed concession on rules and flare-ups from opponents

Rep. Kevin McCarthy was removed from his leadership post after a bloc of Republicans rebelled over his handling of budget issues.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy was removed from his leadership post after a bloc of Republicans rebelled over his handling of budget issues. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s tumultuous tenure as speaker of the House will go down as the third-shortest in history, ending Tuesday evening when House members voted to vacate the chair. Here’s a look back at a few key moments of the California Republican’s House reign.

Nov. 8, 2022: Republicans expecting a “red wave” to deliver double-digit majorities see disappointing election results that require days of waiting before the final races are called. In the end, there was a net change of nine seats. While they won the majority, Republicans could not afford to lose more than five of their own members on votes if Democrats were united in the opposite direction. Many of those gains also came in districts in New York and California that had backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020, making the majority more vulnerable in 2024. 

Jan. 7: McCarthy, who had been minority leader in the previous Congress, is elected speaker at 12:34 a.m. on the 15th ballot, after four days of protracted voting and negotiations within the House Republican Conference to get over the top. McCarthy ultimately gets 216 votes to Democrat Hakeem Jeffries’ 212, with six Republicans voting “present” to lower the tally needed to win. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., was among those who never voted for McCarthy, using earlier ballots to support Trump and Reps. Andy Biggs of Kentucky,  Byron Donalds of Florida, Kevin Hern of Oklahoma and Jim Jordan of Ohio. One concession McCarthy made during the debate was a rule change allowing a single member to make a motion to oust the speaker, a privilege that had to come from the direction of a caucus or conference when Democrats controlled the chamber.

April 26: House Republicans pass a broad deficit reduction package with a debt limit increase that has no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate but provides McCarthy with leverage in getting the White House to negotiate.

May 27: After prolonged negotiations, McCarthy and his team reach an agreement with Biden and the Democrats on raising the debt limit to avert a default while also setting spending caps for six years, with an enforcement mechanism for the first two.

May 31: The debt limit deal passes the House with majorities from both parties, but more support from Democrats than Republicans.

June 6: Although McCarthy has pitched the debt limit deal as forcing spending cuts on Biden and the Democrats, some in his caucus say he gave up too much because cuts were not as deep as they were in the bill passed in April. This fuels an internal House Republican revolt over a special rule that was to set up votes on bills that conservatives were otherwise inclined to support. Eleven Republicans torpedoed the rule, including members of the House Freedom Caucus, in the first such defeat for a majority’s leadership since 2002. It wouldn’t be the last. The House adjourns for several days until an agreement is reached and the bills pass.

Sept. 19: A cadre of conservatives once again disrupts the floor agenda, voting with Democrats to tank the rule for consideration of the fiscal 2024 Pentagon spending bill. Given the narrow majority, it took only a handful of “no” votes to thwart the rule.

Sept. 29: With a partial government shutdown looming, McCarthy offers a stopgap spending bill that has been amended to cater to demands from his critics, only to see it defeated when 21 Republicans join Democrats in opposition. 

Sept. 30: In a surprise move, McCarthy pivots and allows a continuing resolution providing spending until Nov. 17 to reach the floor. Democrats contest the exclusion of funding for aid to Ukraine and express frustration that they are not granted 90 minutes to review the text of the measure. After using dilatory tactics to give themselves that time, they vote in favor of it. The measure passes 335-91, but 90 of the 91 “no” votes are from Republicans.

Oct. 1: Gaetz makes the rounds on Sunday morning television shows to announce he would be moving to vacate the chair after McCarthy moved the relatively clean CR. “I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” Gaetz said on CNN. McCarthy expresses confidence that he will be fine.

Oct. 3: House Democrats emerge from a caucus huddle unified in opposing bailing out McCarthy, and the defeat of a motion to table the motion to vacate makes it clear that the speaker lacks the votes to continue. When the clerk calls the roll, McCarthy is ousted on a 216-210 vote. Voting with the Democrats are Republicans Gaetz, Biggs, 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. North Carolina Rep. Patrick T. McHenry becomes speaker pro tem and calls a recess for members to decide what to do next. Hours later, McCarthy tells a GOP conference meeting and then assembled reporters that he is not standing as a candidate for speaker in subsequent elections.

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