Kevin McCarthy is the first House speaker ever to be ousted from the job in historic vote

Kevin McCarthy learned a painful lesson: There’s a price to pay for helping set fire to an institution and then asking the fire department to come save your office.

The California Republican spent nine months at the House trying to placate an intractable group of hard-right Republicans, bowing to their demands in ways that hurt the House as an institution. They were never satisfied and turned on McCarthy, setting in motion Tuesday’s vote to expel him as speaker.

By late Monday, after enough Republicans had made their intentions known, it was clear that McCarthy could not win just from votes on his side of the aisle, as is the House tradition. So he turned to Democrats to ask for help putting out the fire of an internal GOP rebellion that he helped start.

It wasn’t even a close call.

“Nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy. Nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a leading liberal, told reporters after a raucous morning caucus.

With that, the always-smiling Republican got expelled from the speaker’s office nine months to the day he lost the first 14 of 15 ballots in trying to win the gavel. After all the concessions McCarthy had made to his right flank to finally win, Democrats could not believe some Republicans were asking them to save McCarthy’s political life.

Some of their voices filled with anger, they said they no longer saw him as the good-natured young Republican who befriended them a decade before in the House gym and planned bipartisan, group bike rides. They viewed him as morphing — fairly quickly over the past three years — into a craven, unprincipled leader just trying to cling to power for the sake of power alone.

Some Democrats pitied him and all his efforts to appease a group of intransigent right-wing radicals. But they said he had to pay a price for making so many promises and backing away from them.

They recalled how, immediately after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, McCarthy blamed President Donald Trump and called for an independent commission to investigate, only to throw his support behind Trump after he left office and to oppose a deep investigation.

“He has brought chaos to the House, and he’s saying keeping him in that position is how we solve that problem? That’s an argument that just isn’t selling,” said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee and co-author of a Pentagon policy bill that won the panel’s approval 58-1.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) cited that legislation as a key example of McCarthy’s deceit. Rather than advance such a bill with broad support, he caved to a few hard-right Republicans and loaded the legislation up with culture-war policy riders that passed on a narrow partisan vote.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) on Saturday. (Tom Brenner for the Washington Post )

Jeffries, who has held a cordial public relationship with McCarthy, left no doubt that his party would unanimously support taking the gavel from him, rating McCarthy as no different from the most extreme elements of the GOP.

“Given their unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism in an authentic and comprehensive manner, House Democratic leadership will vote yes on the pending Republican Motion to Vacate the Chair,” Jeffries wrote to Democratic lawmakers just minutes before votes started, referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.

In a rambling news conference late Tuesday, McCarthy blamed Democrats for not giving him some support, suggesting he had been given such assurances late last year.

“I think today was a political decision,” he told reporters, suggesting they hurt the House. “My fear is the institution fell today.”

In fact, when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), McCarthy’s biggest antagonist inside the House GOP, formally offered the motion Monday, he expected Democrats to give McCarthy a political lifeline.

“That’s the likely outcome,” Gaetz told reporters in a news conference.

Instead, Gaetz got to oversee one hour of debate before the final vote, decamping to the Democratic side of the aisle to work at a table usually reserved for leading liberals who despise him.

Democrats did not speak during the debate, leaving the Republicans to fight among themselves. On the final vote, 208 Democrats and eight Republicans voted against McCarthy, with 210 GOP lawmakers supporting him.

McCarthy’s allies had hoped that senior Democrats who care for the institution, particularly Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, who served 20 years in leadership and has traveled abroad with McCarthy, would find a way to give him enough support.

First elected in 2006, McCarthy spent his first 12 years in office well-liked on both sides of the aisle. He worked out in the House gym with a bipartisan crowd.

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.), a close McCarthy confidant who is now serving as acting speaker, noted that McCarthy tried to treat Jeffries better than then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) treated him the previous four years. He warned that expelling a speaker midterm will be a major “inflection” point.

McCarthy did call Jeffries on Monday evening, but in his news conference, McCarthy said neither leader offered or requested concessions to win votes.

If Democrats were to save him, it would just have been out of the rapport they had with him or for the sake of avoiding throwing the House into the chaos that now consumes it.

Instead, Democrats said that the McCarthy they knew and liked from his days about a decade ago when he held a junior GOP leadership post, had become unrecognizable compared with the man who gave in to so many hard-right demands.

“I don’t distinguish that sharply between Kevin McCarthy and Matt Gaetz,” Rep. Jaime B. Raskin (D-Md.) said Monday.

Then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) walks to the floor Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Raskin, a manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial, noted that McCarthy, in the aftermath of the Capitol attack, was the first high-ranking leader to call for an independent commission to investigate.

But within weeks of the assault, McCarthy traveled to visit Trump and made amends, then worked against a commission and the eventual House Jan. 6 committee.

When he won the speaker’s race in early January, McCarthy did so only by agreeing to weaken the motion that Gaetz used this week against him, making it far easier for a tiny faction to force chaos.

“This speaker and Republican conference have done everything they can to bring us to this point of chaos, to have an unstable House of Representatives,” Rep. Mark Takano (R-Calif.) told reporters Tuesday.

In May, McCarthy clinched a debt-and-budget deal with President Biden that set a framework for federal agency funding for the next two years while also allowing the Treasury Department to continue borrowing.

Within weeks he backed away from that deal when he faced pressure from hard-right Republicans, who contended they had won promises from him that set spending much lower.

Faced with two competing promises, McCarthy went with the GOP lawmakers and ordered the House Appropriations Committee to slash more than $100 billion from the budget. And in September, after publicly promising to hold a vote to launch impeachment proceedings against Biden, he declared on his own that an “impeachment inquiry” was underway, even though his own rank-and-file cast doubt about allegations against the president.

“Kevin McCarthy hasn’t done anything that would be speaker-trustworthy,” Takano said.

Of course, Republicans who voted to oust him Tuesday said they had the same problem: trust.

Over and over, they said, McCarthy would make a commitment to them for some legislation or favor, only to learn that he had some other commitment to another set of Republicans that was in direct conflict.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who holds moderate views on abortion rights, said she thought she had pledges from him to advance bills to expand access to birth control and rape kits, only to see nothing happen because of antiabortion opposition inside the caucus.

“I’ve made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, that he has not kept to help women in this country,” she told reporters after the vote.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) speaks to reporters Tuesday. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

His actions the past week summed up his time as speaker, leaving so many people feeling burned by McCarthy. After moving hard to the right on government funding bills, he hit the Saturday deadline to force a government shutdown or pass legislation with Democrats.

He had told conservatives for weeks that he wouldn’t pass legislation with Democrats — only to decide to do just that in a last-minute pivot. Conservatives were infuriated.

McCarthy then publicly clashed with Biden over whether he had made a private pledge for legislation to fund military support for Ukraine, leaving all sides of that debate confused about his position.

And on a Sunday show appearance that was shown to the rank-and-file Democrats on Tuesday, the now ex-speaker blamed the near shutdown of the federal government on Democrats.

“We are not saving Kevin McCarthy,” Jayapal said afterward.

A handful of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday ousted Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy, as party infighting plunged Congress into further chaos just days after it narrowly averted a government shutdown.

The 216-to-210 vote marked the first time in history that the House removed its leader, with eight Republicans voting with 208 Democrats to remove McCarthy. McCarthy told reporters he would not make another run for speaker.

"I fought for what I believe in," McCarthy said. "I believe I can continue to fight, but maybe in a different manner."

The House looked set to go leaderless for at least a week, as multiple Republicans said they planned to meet on Oct. 10 to discuss possible McCarthy successors, with a vote on a new speaker planned for Oct. 11.

Tuesday's rebellion was led by Representative Matt Gaetz, a far-right Republican from Florida and McCarthy antagonist who finally turned on the speaker after he on Saturday relied on Democratic votes to help pass a bill to avoid a partial government shutdown.

"Kevin McCarthy is a creature of the swamp. He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favors. We are breaking the fever now," Gaetz told reporters after the vote.

It was the latest moment of high drama in a year when the Republican-controlled House brought Washington to the brink of a catastrophic default on U.S. debt of $31.4 trillion and a partial government shutdown.

Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, meaning they can afford to lose no more than five votes if Democrats unite in opposition.

McCarthy's ouster as speaker brings legislative activity in the House to a halt, with another government shutdown deadline looming Nov. 17 if Congress does not extend funding.

The White House said it hoped the House would move swiftly to choose a replacement speaker, a position second in line to the presidency after the vice president.


The vote left Congress in uncharted waters as it scrambles to update farm subsidy and nutrition programs, pass government funding bills, and consider further aid to Ukraine.

It was unclear who would succeed McCarthy.

McCarthy had repeatedly angered Democrats in recent weeks, including by launching an impeachment inquiry into Biden and on Saturday by giving them little time to read a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown that he needed their votes to pass.

Democrats could have saved McCarthy but, after considering it, said they would not help Republicans resolve their own problems.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters after he was ousted from the position in Washington

Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks to reporters after he was ousted from the position of Speaker by a vote of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. October 3, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst Acquire Licensing Rights

Other Republican leaders like Steve Scalise and Tom Emmer could possibly be candidates, though neither has publicly expressed interest. Representative Patrick McHenry was named to the post on a temporary basis.

The last two Republican speakers, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, retired from Congress after clashes with their right wing.

In debate on the House floor, Gaetz and a handful of allies criticized McCarthy for relying on Democratic votes to pass temporary funding that headed off a partial government shutdown.

"We need a speaker who will fight for something - anything - other than staying on as speaker," said Republican Representative Bob Good.

Representative Nancy Mace told reporters she voted to remove McCarthy as speaker because he broke promises to her on improving access to birth control and supporting a bill she wrote on rape kits.

"I've made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, that he has not kept to help women in this country," Mace said. "We have done nothing for them."

McCarthy's supporters, including some of the chamber's most vocal conservatives, said McCarthy had successfully limited spending and advanced other conservative priorities even though Democrats control the White House and the Senate.

"Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos, because that's where we're headed," said Republican Representative Tom Cole.


Democrats said they viewed McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke a May agreement on spending with Biden.

"Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence," Representative Pramila Jayapal told reporters before the vote.

Gaetz was one of more than a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy's bid for speaker in January. McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting over four days. To win the job, McCarthy agreed to rules that made it easier to challenge his leadership.

McCarthy supporters have said Gaetz was motivated by a hunger for publicity, a chance to win higher office, or resentment over an ongoing ethics probe into possible sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.

Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he is not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.

"This isn't a critique of the individual - it's a critique of the job. The job hasn't been done," he said.

 The U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in its history has booted its speaker out of the job, as infighting in the narrow and bitterly divided Republican majority toppled Kevin McCarthy from the position.

Here is a look at what comes next:


Immediately following Tuesday's 216-210 ouster vote, Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy ally, was appointed acting speaker for a very limited time - up to three legislative days in this case.

The acting speaker's duties are vague, according to a guide to the chamber's rules and procedures: That person "may exercise such authorities of the office of the speaker as may be necessary and appropriate pending the election of a speaker or speaker pro tempore."

While the speaker sets the overall legislative agenda in the House, it is the House majority leader who schedules specific bills to be debated and voted upon in the chamber.

Republican Representative Kelly Armstrong told reporters that McHenry's main task will be to "get us a new speaker." Anything further, he said, would spark a move to oust McHenry.


Until a House speaker is installed, it is unlikely that further action will be taken on bills to fund the government, with lawmakers facing a Nov. 17 deadline to provide more money or face a partial government shutdown.

Republican lawmakers said they would need at least a week to choose a new speaker, which will eat into the time necessary to pass that needed legislation.

Battles over those bills and anger over McCarthy's failure to win extremely deep spending cuts sought by hard-right conservatives sparked the successful move by Representative Matt Gaetz to unseat him.


The House's 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats huddled privately to figure out their next steps - both political and legislative.

Each party was expected to try to settle on a candidate for speaker. That's fairly easy for Democrats as they are solidly behind Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who ran for speaker in January against McCarthy and other candidates.

Republicans, because of their obvious divisions, especially among a small group of hard-line conservatives seeking very deep cuts in federal spending, could have a harder time settling on a candidate.

McHenry could have an advantage now that he is an acting speaker. It was unclear whether he wants the job. McCarthy said he will not run again.

The House finds itself in an unprecedented moment and so it was unclear exactly how quickly an election will be held in the full House. Normally, the elections for speaker are scheduled at the start of the new Congress every two years.


The leaders of both parties will have to decide when they are ready to enter into the process of electing a speaker.

The January endeavor was sloppy as McCarthy for days could not get enough votes to win and had to endure 15 ballots.

It could be at least as chaotic this time around for Republicans unless they conclude that such chaos is creating a public backlash that could doom their election prospects in 2024 and they unite.


Under the U.S. Constitution, the House speaker does not have to be a member of Congress. That is the reason some Republicans have floated the name of former President Donald Trump for the job, even though he is running for president and has said he does not want the job.

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