The House on Tuesday voted to remove Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as Speaker, a never-before-seen historic vote that leaves the lower chamber of Congress in chaos.
The mutiny, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), came days after McCarthy averted a government shutdown by putting a stopgap measure on the floor that garnered Democratic support — a move that infuriated hardline Republicans.
In the final 216-210 vote, seven Republicans joined Gaetz to unseat McCarthy.
Every Democrat in the chamber also voted to boot McCarthy, refusing to help protect him from his unruly conference. McCarthy said he would give Democrats nothing if they were to vote to help him.
The House is now in uncharted territory, with House members and aides unsure what will happen next.
Immediately after the vote to remove McCarthy, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) was declared Speaker pro tempore. He said the House would go into recess so that Democrats and Republicans could meet separately to “discuss the path forward.”
McCarthy said Tuesday he would not run again for Speaker.
“Unfortunately, 4 percent of our conference can join all the Democrats and dictate who can be the Republican Speaker in this House,” McCarthy said in a press conference. “I don’t think that room is good for the institution, but apparently I’m the only one. I believe I can continue to fight, maybe in a different manner. I will not run for Speaker again. I’ll have the conference pick somebody else.”
No votes are expected in the House the rest of the week, and Republicans said they would meet to select their pick for Speaker next Tuesday.
The House will not be able to resume normal operations until it elects a new Speaker.
Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said McCarthy’s ouster will put a “stain on the institution.”
“My guess is it will serve as Exhibit A to a whole lot of challenges that my party is going to have in the ensuing days, weeks, months, and perhaps years. This was not a desired outcome,” he said.
GOP Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Tim Burchett (Tenn.), Eli Crane (Ariz.), Bob Good (Va.), Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Matt Rosendale (Mont.) joined Gaetz in voting to oust McCarthy.
Chatter about alternative Republican Speaker candidates increased after the vote. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who opposed McCarthy’s ouster, said that he hoped Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) could be Speaker. Gaetz threw out a number of potential names, including House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), or Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.).
Gaetz, speaking to a swarm of reporters on the House steps immediately after the vote, took a victory lap.
“The reason Kevin McCarthy went down today is because nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy. Kevin McCarthy has made multiple contradictory promises. And when they all came due, he lost votes from people who maybe don’t even ideologically agree with me on everything,” Gaetz said.
But Tuesday’s outcome surprised even some of those who voted to remove McCarthy.
“I didn’t have a high deal of confidence that will be the outcome,” said Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), one of the eight GOP McCarthy opponents.
Tuesday marked the first time that the House voted on whether to remove a sitting Speaker since 1910, when Speaker Joe Cannon (R-Ill.) prevailed and kept his gavel. The only other “motion to vacate” attempt was in 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) made a move to oust Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — but it was referred to committee and never received a vote.
McCarthy’s ouster on Tuesday was inextricably linked to the four-day, 15-ballot Speaker’s election in January, which awarded McCarthy the gavel only after he made a number of concessions to conservatives. In order to sway the 20 holdouts against him and win the gavel, McCarthy agreed to a number of conditions, including changing the threshold to force a vote on ousting the Speaker from five members to just one.
The motion to vacate threat had been hanging over his head ever since.
The eight Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy from the Speakership largely cited anger over his handling of fiscal issues, and the stopgap funding bill.
But supporters think the move is also personal.
Gaetz, whom the Justice Department declined to charge after a lengthy sex-trafficking investigation, is facing another investigation by the House Ethics Committee. McCarthy has said that he thinks the Florida congressman has blamed him for the investigation.
Gaetz denied that the ethics probe factored into his move.
But McCarthy’s ouster was in large part the result of Democrats, who announced hours before Tuesday’s votes that they would not protect McCarthy from the handful of rabble-rousers in his own party.
McCarthy tried winning over Democrats by arguing publicly that a successful motion to vacate would be bad for the institution of the House.
Democrats were not swayed.
In a Tuesday morning conference meeting to discuss how to handle the move against McCarthy, a video was shown of McCarthy, during a Sunday appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” trying to blame the near-shutdown on Democrats. Some Democrats also cited McCarthy’s shift on the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — from saying that former President Trump bore responsibility, to working with Trump shortly after.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), to whom Democrats were looking for guidance on the motion to vacate, sent a “dear colleague” Tuesday that Democratic leadership would support the effort to oust McCarthy, claiming that House Republicans “unleashed chaos, dysfunction and extremism on hardworking American taxpayers.”
After the vote, he reflected on the “solemn moment for the country and for the House of Representatives.”
“It is our hope that traditional Republicans will walk away from MAGA extremism and join us in partnership for the good of the country,” he added.
Republicans quickly pulled knives out against Gaetz, criticizing the Republican for fundraising off his effort to oust McCarthy and one going as far as to say he would be booted from the House GOP conference.
“All of a sudden my phone keeps sending text messages. Text messages saying hey, give me money. Oh look at that, oh look at that, give me money I filed a motion to vacate. Using official actions, official actions to raise money. It’s disgusting. It’s what’s disgusting about Washington,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a close McCarthy ally, said on the House floor during debate.
Some Republicans responded by shouting “shame” in the House chamber.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told reporters after the vote that Gaetz should be thrown out of the House GOP conference.
“He shouldn’t be in our conference,” Bacon said. “He’s not a Republican.”
During debate on the ouster, McCarthy sat in the chamber, looking forward.
“Chaos is Speaker McCarthy. Chaos is somebody who we cannot trust with their word,” Gaetz said on the House floor. “The one thing that the White House, House Democrats and many of us on the conservative side of the Republican caucus would argue is that the thing we have in common: Kevin McCarthy said something to all of us at one point or another that he didn’t really mean and never intended to live up to.”
“I don’t think voting against Kevin McCarthy is chaos,” he continued. “I think $33 trillion in debt is chaos.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee and a close McCarthy ally, was first to speak in defense of the California Republican.
“We’re proud of the leadership he’s shown. We’re proud of the manner in which he’s been willing to work with everybody in our conference and I believe in this chamber,” Cole said.
He later referenced McCarthy’s decision to put a “clean” continuing resolution on the floor to avert a government shutdown.
“He put his political neck on the line knowing this day was coming to do the right thing, the right thing for the country without a doubt, my friends and I agree on that whether or not we agree on the Speaker,” Cole said. “He did the right thing. He did the right thing I think for this institution. He showed it could function in a time of crisis.”
Aris Folly and Miranda Nazzaro contributed. Updated at 9:18 p.m.