McCarthy ousted as House speaker: Breaking down your FAQs

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy became the first House speaker ever to be removed from office after the House voted Tuesday to approve a resolution from fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Florida, to vacate the leadership role.

The history that played out on Capitol Hill has left Americans with plenty of questions — and here we attempt to answer some of them.

So what happened, exactly?

Kevin McCarthy.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters on Tuesday after he was ousted as speaker of the House. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The House voted 216 to 210 on the resolution to vacate the leadership role, with eight hard-line Republican members, led by Gaetz, joining all Democrats in the House to kick McCarthy out of the speakership. It was the first time that has happened in American history.

Why did Gaetz do this?

Gaetz said he filed his “motion to vacate” over McCarthy's "broken promises" to conservative Republicans who helped elect him as speaker originally. Chief among them for Gaetz was McCarthy’s deal with House Democrats over the weekend to avert the government shutdown.

“Chaos is Speaker McCarthy,” Gaetz said in a floor speech prior to the final vote. “Chaos is somebody who we cannot trust with their word.”

So, wait, who is the speaker now?

Patrick McHenry.
Rep. Patrick McHenry after McCarthy was voted out of the speakership on Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

No one. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a bespectacled and bow-tied Republican from North Carolina, is now the acting speaker, or speaker pro tempore, who will oversee the House until a successor is chosen.

When will that happen?

It’s unclear. House Republicans reportedly plan to hold a candidate forum next Tuesday and an election next Wednesday.

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Who are the candidates for speaker?

Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise.

At the moment, there are just two: Rep. Jim Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and an outspoken Republican from Ohio; and Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority leader and a Republican from Louisiana, who is undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

What qualifications do you need to run for speaker?

None. Literally anyone can run for House speaker. You don’t even have to be a member of the House.

Wait, really?

Yes, really! The speaker of the House is not required to be a sitting member of Congress, though no speaker has ever held the role without being a member.

Is that why some members of the GOP are encouraging Trump to run?

Donald Trump.
Former President Donald Trump during his civil fraud trial in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Pool Photo via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Yep. Former President Donald Trump’s name has been teased as a possible candidate for speaker, but Trump, the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, says he’d rather focus on his campaign.

“A lot of people have asked me about it,” he told reporters outside the courtroom at his civil fraud trial in New York City on Wednesday. “I'll do whatever it is to help. But my focus, my total focus, is being president.”

What about McCarthy?

McCarthy announced Tuesday night that he won't run again. “I may have lost this vote today, but as I walk out of this chamber I feel fortunate to have served," he said at a press conference at the Capitol. “I wouldn't change a thing.”

Why didn’t Democrats rescue McCarthy?

Pro-Trump rioters clash with police outside the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021.
Pro-Trump rioters clash with police outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag)

Democrats could have swooped in at the last moment to save McCarthy, but they didn’t. Why? After the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, led by a pro-Trump mob intending to overturn the 2020 election, McCarthy seemed to acknowledge that a dangerous line had been crossed, saying Trump “bears responsibility” for the failed insurrection. But he changed his mind after a visit to Mar-a-Lago three weeks later and has since done everything he can to resuscitate Trump’s image. Democrats have not forgotten.

And on Sunday, a day after striking after a shutdown-averting deal, McCarthy blamed Democrats for the near-failure of the legislation, angering them even more.

What else happened at the Capitol yesterday?

Nancy Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi in 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In his first act as interim speaker, McHenry ordered Rep. Nancy Pelosi to vacate her “hideaway” office in the Capitol building. The former House speaker, whose main office is in the Longworth building, was given the additional space after handing the gavel to McCarthy.

What was Pelosi’s reaction?

Pelosi, who is in San Francisco to attend Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s funeral later this week, blasted the move.

"This eviction is a sharp departure from tradition," she said in a statement. "As speaker, I gave former [Republican House] Speaker [Dennis] Hastert a significantly larger suite of offices for as long as he wished. Office space doesn't matter to me, but it seems to be important to them."