The U.S. Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a motion to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy, marking the first time in U.S. history that a House speaker has been voted out of office in the middle of a term.
Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting to remove McCarthy from the speakership, as party infighting plunged Congress into further chaos just days after it narrowly averted a government shutdown. McCarthy told reporters Tuesday night that he would not make another run for speaker.
McCarthy initially attempted to pass a stopgap funding bill with spending cuts and border security provisions. But conservative Republicans opposed any “patchwork” funding package and refused to cooperate, forcing him to turn to Democrats for support.
NO APPARENT SUCCESSOR
“I will not run for speaker again. I’ll have the (Republican) conference pick somebody else,” McCarthy told reporters after a closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers Tuesday night.
The remarks came just a few hours after the Republican-controlled House approved an unprecedented motion to oust McCarthy as speaker.
“I don’t regret standing up for choosing governing over grievance. It is my responsibility. It is my job. I do not regret negotiating. Our government is designed to find compromise,” McCarthy said.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a new speaker to replace ousted McCarthy on Oct. 11, according to several House Republicans.
It was a stunning moment for McCarthy, a punishment fueled by growing discontent but sparked by his weekend decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown.
In many ways, McCarthy’s ouster was set in motion when, in deal-making with hard-right holdouts at the start of the year, he agreed to a series of demands, including a rule change that allowed any lawmaker to file the motion to vacate, U.S. media reported.
The next step is highly uncertain as there is no obvious successor to lead the House Republican majority.
Republican Representative Patrick T. McHenry from North Carolina has been named acting speaker of the House after the ousting. The House now needs to elect a new speaker.
U.S. President Joe Biden has urged the House to quickly elect a speaker. “The urgent challenges facing our nation will not wait,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement soon after the House vote unseated McCarthy.
“President Biden has demonstrated that he is always eager to work with both parties in Congress in good faith on behalf of the American people,” Jean-Pierre said.
The speakership that McCarthy sought for much of his political career has ended up a poisoned chalice, something McCarthy’s successor is poised to inherit.
The ousting of McCarthy leaves Congress in uncharted waters as it scrambles to pass government funding bills, avoid a government shutdown, mull further aid to Ukraine and deal with whether to launch an impeachment inquiry into Biden.
Meanwhile, the procedural weapons that Congress once reserved for the most serious crimes: censure, expulsion, impeachment and now motions for the speaker to step aside have become commonplace.
Many Republicans were left in a state of total exasperation, having begged their colleagues not to follow through.
“If we vacate the chair, the government will shut down. Our credit rating will go down; interest rates will go up,” not to mention “the institutional erosion that will occur,” a Pennsylvania Republican known for working with Democrats warned hours before the vote to oust McCarthy, the Associated Press reported.
The chaos will likely increase the chances of a government shutdown next month. The Biden-signed short-term resolution, which continues to fund the federal government through Nov. 17, is not a permanent solution to prevent a government shutdown.
Critics expect the same farce to stage out virtually every month, considering the current political climate, party conflicts and policy dilemmas.
The latest motion has pushed party infighting to a climax, the fallout of which will undoubtedly complicate the trajectory of the U.S. House and potentially shape the country’s wider political landscape, already mired in partisan wrestling.
A SPEAKER NO ONE TRUSTS
Matt Gaetz, a hard-right Republican and a top ally of Donald Trump, was one of over a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy’s bid for speaker in January.
Gaetz and other Republicans had warned for weeks that they would move to oust McCarthy from his position as chamber leader if he relied on Democrats to pass funding legislation.
In TV appearances Sunday after Congress passed the short-term funding bill, Gaetz accused McCarthy of lying during negotiations. He also alleged that McCarthy had been dishonest with the Republican conference in January during a lengthy speakership fight in which McCarthy endured 15 rounds of votes before being elected.
“I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy,” Gaetz told local media. The lawmaker, who has his own history of making false claims, maintained that “everybody” shares his lack of faith in the Republican leader.
“Nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” he added. “He lied to Biden. He lied to House conservatives.”
Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, said that under the Republican majority, the House “has been restructured to empower right-wing extremists, kowtow to their harsh demands and impose a rigid partisan ideology.”
“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,” said Jeffries, referring to the “Make America Great Again” slogan popularized by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.
After last year’s midterm elections, the Republican Party retook the House, with control of 221 seats, just nine more than the Democratic Party’s 212 seats, meaning that even five “rebels” are enough to defeat a Republican legislative agenda.
The decision to put forward the “clean” stopgap funding bill is welcomed by Democrats and the White House but has upset some Republicans.
Greg Cusack, a former member of the Iowa House of Representatives, told Xinhua earlier that the fight in Congress was “embarrassing and infuriating.”