The US House of Representatives has navigated itself into uncharted territory after it voted to remove Kevin McCarthy as Speaker, the first such move in the chamber’s history.
Eight Republicans joined all present Democrats in a 216-210 vote to oust Mr McCarthy, ending the California politician’s nine-month stint on the job.
Mr McCarthy, resigned that he would not have the support needed, said he would not run for the position again.
“My goals have not changed. My ability to fight is just in a different form,” he said.
Tuesday’s stunning vote and Mr McCarthy’s decision now creates a power vacuum in a divided Republican chamber that must decide on a new speaker.
What happens next?
The House on Wednesday began a week-long break as Republicans scrambled to find a leader after the shock vote. It is still unclear who Mr McCarthy’s successor will be as leader of the House Republicans.
Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy ally, is serving as the acting speaker, and after a visibly frustrated gavel slam on Tuesday he declared the break until both parties can decide on a path forward.
The vacancy has left the House of Representatives at a standstill until a new speaker is elected. Mr McHenry has limited authority as acting speaker and is unable to bring forward legislation until a permanent leader is elected. He also does not have the power to issue subpoenas or sign off on any other official House business.
Matt Gaetz, the far-right Congressman who brought the motion to oust Mr McCarthy, is among the growing number of Republicans who have hinted at support for candidates such as Majority Leader Steve Scalise or Whip Tom Emmer. Representative Jim Jordan, a darling of the right-wing and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee leading the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, is another whose name has been circulated.
Under House rules, the Speaker does not have to be a member of Congress, and some in Washington are suggesting a wild card could be played – for former president and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday night reported that “some House Republicans have been in contact with and have started an effort to draft former president Donald Trump to be the next speaker and I have been told that Trump might be open to helping the Republican Party at least in the short term, if necessary”.
Mr Jordan even appeared to be open to the idea when asked about the prospect.
“He’d be great … I want him to be president … but if he wants to be speaker, that’s fine too,” Mr Jordan said on Fox News.
The White House has urged Republicans in the House to act “quickly”.
“The American people deserve leadership that puts the issues affecting their lives front and centre,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre said in a statement.
“Once the House has met their responsibility to elect a speaker, he looks forward to working together with them and with the Senate to address the American peoples’ priorities.”
Meanwhile, the Senate is still operating this week, with regularly scheduled hearings and business moving forward.
A government shutdown looms – again
Whoever is selected as the next House speaker will have to tackle a challenge that doomed Mr McCarthy’s tenure: keeping the government open.
The US federal government is due to shut down on November 17 unless another bill is passed to fund it. But with House lawmakers out of town for the rest of the week and speaker elections not expected until next Wednesday, the timetable is further constrained to keep the government open.
If the government does shut down, thousands of federal workers will go unpaid, federal agencies will be reduced to minimal staffing and processing visa and passport applications will be snarled. The US credit rating could also take a hit, Moody’s has warned.
And many of the issues that dominated the last shutdown deal remain unresolved, including funding for Ukraine and deciding on spending levels for a number of agencies.
But the political calculus has changed little since last weekend, with a fractional group of Republicans threatening to torpedo any deal it does not like.
With such small margins, the next House speaker will suffer similar headaches as his or her predecessor.