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Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday became the first speaker of the House in history to be ousted by a vote of the chamber, leaving Washington in chaos and dealing a potentially fatal blow to the Bakersfield Republican’s political career.
The revolt against McCarthy was led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and a small group of hard-right Republicans who have complained that the speaker worked across the aisle too often. The 216-210 vote highlighted the divisions in the GOP and made clear that the party’s right wing will not tolerate leaders who compromise with President Biden and his allies.
Gaetz and seven other Republicans joined with 208 Democrats to dump McCarthy.
“Well, we heard McCarthy say he wanted us to bring it on,” Gaetz told reporters after the vote. “So I guess we did.”
The result plunges the House into crisis, with no clear sign of who — if anyone — can muster enough votes to become the next speaker.
“We’re in uncharted waters,” Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) told The Times shortly before the vote.
McCarthy told Republicans on Tuesday night that he will not seek to regain the gavel, clearing the way for another candidate to take his place.
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a close McCarthy ally, will act as speaker on a temporary basis.
Republicans huddled Tuesday evening to try to figure out who could win the votes necessary to lead the chamber. But multiple GOP lawmakers said they have no idea what’s next.
Gaetz and his allies will probably demand significant concessions in exchange for supporting a new Republican speaker. Democrats could also attempt to extract concessions in exchange for supporting a consensus speaker, though such a deal is unprecedented in modern U.S. history.
McCarthy's defeat will have ramifications beyond his personal political career. Gaetz cited the former speaker's Saturday decision to work with Democrats to keep the government open as one of the reasons for his coup, and McCarthy’s defeat sends a clear signal to whoever replaces him that the far right of the Republican Party will not tolerate such deal-making.
California will be affected too: Without the Bakersfield Republican in the speaker’s chair, the state, which lost its senior senator just last week, will probably see its power in Congress further diminished.
Many McCarthy allies were furious about his defeat.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) called for the GOP to kick Gaetz out of the conference, calling McCarthy’s removal “a vote for chaos.” “It hurts our country, our Congress. Republicans will be weaker from this coming around next November, and I thought the behavior of these eight folks was shameful,” he said.
“If they want to expel me,” a defiant Gaetz replied to reporters, “let me know when they have the votes.”
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a McCarthy ally, formally presided over the vote to remove him and called it a “surreal moment.”
“I’ve presided over some pretty incredible things in this House, but I’ve never presided over something like that,” he said.
With tempers flaring, he worried that physical violence could break out.
“There are people in there that have waged battle, literal battle, in combat, and it won’t take much for some people to set them off. I sure hope that we don’t come to any sort of physical violence,” he warned. “When emotions are high like this, people react.”
But speaking to reporters on the Capitol steps, Gaetz said that he and his allies were "breaking the fever” by voting to oust McCarthy. “McCarthy is a feature of the swamp,” he said, adding that the former speaker “couldn’t keep his word” to right-flank Republicans.
Gaetz, after months of threats, filed a motion to oust McCarthy late Monday night, taking advantage of chamber rules — approved by the House majority in January — that allow any lawmaker to force a quick vote to boot the speaker. McCarthy lost a vote to table Gaetz’s motion early Tuesday afternoon, 218 to 208.
After the procedural vote, Gaetz’s fellow Republicans appeared to refuse to allow him to deliver his remarks from their side of the House floor, forcing him to speak from the Democratic side of the chamber.
Democrats had made clear before the vote that they were not interested in bailing out McCarthy. “We are ready to find bipartisan common ground,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, late Tuesday morning. “Our extreme colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same. They must find a way to end the House Republican Civil War.”
The Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy were Gaetz, Andy Biggs and Eli Crane of Arizona, Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Bob Good of Virginia, Matthew M. Rosendale of Montana, Ken Buck of Colorado and Nancy Mace of South Carolina.
Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana voted against McCarthy in an initial procedural vote but declined to remove him from the speaker’s chair, telling reporters before the vote, “I’m willing to give him one more chance.” Cory Mills of Florida and Warren Davidson of Ohio also backed McCarthy on the removal vote after opposing him on the procedural measure.
The House has been in disarray for much of the year, with GOP hard-liners demanding concession after concession in exchange for supporting McCarthy’s agenda. To win the speaker’s gavel in January, McCarthy restored rules that made it easy for any member of the House to move to overthrow him, the same rules that led to his defeat Tuesday.
After his election as speaker on the 15th ballot, hard-right Republicans continued to complain about McCarthy’s supposed willingness to work with Democrats. This year, he worked with Democrats to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling so the United States can pay its bills. On Saturday, he relied on Democratic votes to avert a government shutdown.
In both cases, McCarthy initially tried to pass measures with only GOP votes. He worked with Democrats after those efforts failed.
Still, Gaetz depicted McCarthy’s actions as a betrayal and proof that McCarthy was not fit to lead the GOP. Gaetz also alleged McCarthy made a “secret deal” to help Biden deliver funding to help Ukraine in its war against Russia. McCarthy said this is untrue.
Shortly before the vote to remove the speaker, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma chided his party’s rebels, saying that McCarthy over the weekend “put his political neck on the line knowing this day was coming to do the right thing,” he said. “He showed he can function in a time of crisis.”
Cole implored Democrats not to side with Gaetz. “Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos,” Cole said, “because that’s where we are headed if you vacate the speaker.”
Gaetz offered a rejoinder. “Chaos,” he told Cole on the House floor, “is somebody we cannot trust with their word.”
“You’ve got to see the grift for what it is,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said of the rebels in his party. “It’s just a group of people that don’t want conservatives to win.”
Former President Trump, who had made clear that he supported a government shutdown, weighed in on the crisis in Congress on Tuesday afternoon. “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 on his conservative social media website, Truth Social.
McCarthy’s ejection from the speakership is the latest blow to the power and reach of California’s congressional delegation, after former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s exit from House leadership and the recent death of longtime Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Democratic Reps. Pete Aguilar of Redlands and Ted Lieu of Torrance are the only Californians left in leadership in either chamber of Congress.
But leading Democrats expressed few concerns about McCarthy’s troubles.
“The Speaker of the House is chosen by the Majority Party,” Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a statement Tuesday morning. “In this Congress, it is the responsibility of House Republicans to choose a nominee and elect the Speaker on the Floor. At this time there is no justification for a departure from this tradition.” Pelosi, who was in San Francisco preparing for her friend Feinstein's funeral, did not vote Tuesday.
McCarthy’s politics are so far removed from the average California voter that Californians shouldn’t worry about him losing his job, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) said before the vote.
“He hasn’t really fought for California to begin with. And in fact, in many cases in the past, he’s done things that are very inimical to the interests of California,” Schiff, whom McCarthy kicked off the House Intelligence Committee this year, told The Times. “At the end of the day, the country needs a speaker that can be relied upon. We don’t trust him, their members don’t trust him, and you need a certain degree of trust to be the speaker.”
It is still unclear who will take over as speaker. McHenry of North Carolina will serve only in an acting capacity. Gaetz has yet to formally suggest anyone, but told reporters after the vote that he believed House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana would “make a phenomenal speaker.” He also mentioned Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), another member of GOP leadership whom other Republicans have floated as a possible replacement for McCarthy.
Scalise has not said whether he wants the job. He voted to save McCarthy and is being treated for blood cancer.
Staff writer Faith E. Pinho contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.