Rep. Kevin McCarthy, whose tumultuous tenure as speaker ended not quite nine months after it began, announced Wednesday he would leave Congress at the end of the year.
“I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways,” the California Republican wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “I know my work is only getting started.”
McCarthy’s departure announcement comes amid growing evidence that his fellow Republicans orchestrated his ouster as speaker in October mostly for personal, not political, reasons. The intraparty animosity was on full display when McCarthy apparently elbowed Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., in front of reporters in November.
And news that members of the House Freedom Caucus were dropping their demands to reduce spending below the levels set in the deal McCarthy struck to keep the government open — the deal that precipitated his ouster — belied contentions that ideology, not individual distaste, led to McCarthy’s downfall.
McCarthy’s tenure as speaker began as it ended, amid intraparty antagonism. He won the gavel on the 15th ballot, the most since the Civil War, making a number of concessions to the far right of his party to gain their support. One of those — a rule allowing just one member to bring a motion to vacate, rather than a party — ultimately was his undoing.
In his rise to become the shortest-serving speaker in more than a century — and third-shortest ever, behind just Theodore Pomeroy, who served a single, ceremonial day as speaker, and Michael Kerr, who died in office of “consumption of the bowels” — McCarthy developed a reputation among his critics as a two-faced politician willing to make promises he couldn’t keep. In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, McCarthy gave a speech saying President Donald Trump “bears responsibility” for the day’s death and destruction, before flying to Mar-a-Lago a few days later to beg for his forgiveness.
McCarthy’s retirement means the GOP will lose one of its most prolific fundraisers. Including amounts raised by the Congressional Leadership Fund, an affiliated super PAC, and other associated groups, McCarthy helped raise around $350 million in the 2022 midterms, $215 million in the 2020 cycle and $80 million in the 2024 cycle.
While some of McCarthy’s fundraising team left his office to work with the new speaker, Mike Johnson, it remains to be seen whether the party can make up the money-printing gap left by McCarthy. When Johnson took over as speaker, he had raised a total of just $6.1 million throughout his entire congressional career.
Republicans expect to easily retain control of McCarthy’s 20th District seat, a safe district for the GOP made up of the suburbs and farmland around the cities of Bakersfield and Fresno, Calif. McCarthy won reelection in 2022 by 34 percentage points.
In interviews since losing the speakership, McCarthy has hinted at plans to seek revenge against the eight Republicans who voted for the motion to vacate, telling CNN that Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who introduced the motion, should face consequences and predicting that another, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, would lose reelection.
In his announcement, McCarthy said he would remain politically active in the GOP but offered few other details.
“I will continue to recruit our country’s best and brightest to run for elected office,” he wrote. “The Republican Party is expanding every day, and I am committed to lending my experience to support the next generation of leaders.”
Rumors that McCarthy would leave began shortly after he lost the speakership and picked up steam shortly before Thanksgiving, when McCarthy posted a photo on Instagram that seemed to show a district office getting packed up. That, combined with major GOP donors telling outlets like Axios that McCarthy was eying the exit, fueled speculation he would leave before his term ended.
McCarthy frustrated some of his fellow Republicans by refusing to make a decision until just two days before California’s filing deadline of Dec. 8.
By leaving before his term ends, McCarthy will create a vacancy that can be filled by a special election called by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Under California law, Newsom will have 14 days after McCarthy formally leaves to declare a special election, which would take place between 126 and 140 days after that proclamation.
McCarthy resigning after the filing deadline on Friday, though, gives Newsom the option to forgo a special election and keep the seat vacant until the 2024 elections.