Kevin McCarthy removed as House speaker in historic vote

Published: Updated:
Former speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy (CREDIT: AP)

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his leadership position in a historic vote on Tuesday after a far-right revolt over his reliance on Democrats to pass funding to avert a government shutdown earlier this month.

It’s the first time a House speaker has been removed in a no-confidence vote.

Now someone from a secret backup list McCarthy created in January will likely serve as a temporary speaker overseeing a new election. It’s not clear how extensive the power of any temporary speaker would be, but Republicans would likely push for that person to have more power than Democrats would want. 

“The one thing that the White House, House Democrats and many of us on the conservative side of the Republican caucus would argue is 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,” Gaetz said on the House floor Tuesday.

A day earlier, Gaetz accused McCarthy of making a “secret side deal” with President Biden on Ukraine aid to get a short-term funding bill passed hours before the government was set to shutdown. McCarthy denied having made any deal in exchange for Democratic votes.

Eleven Republicans voted against the earlier motion to table Gaetz’s resolution, an ominous sign of what was to come for McCarthy.

The Speaker of the House is not only the leader of the chamber but also second in line for the presidency. Ousting a sitting speaker by vote in the middle of a congressional term would be unprecedented in American history, and McCarthy’s allies have warned that doing so would set a precedent that would hang over every speaker moving forward. That argument has not persuaded Democrats to come to McCarthy’s rescue.

Democratic leadership members had urged their caucus to vote “yes” on the motion to vacate. 

“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,” Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote to his caucus. 

McCarthy had expressed confidence to reporters Tuesday morning that he’ll prevail, although if five Republicans join all of the Democrats in voting against him, McCarthy would be removed. 

Ahead of the vote, McCathy told reporters “it is what it is” but insisted he was “confident” he would remain speaker. 

“I’m an optimist because I think there’s no point  in being anything else,” McCarthy said. 

He said earlier that he spoke with Jeffries Tuesday morning, but when he was asked whether he would have to rely on the votes of Democrats to retain the speakership, he replied, “No, I personally am not.”

Most Democrats may not be inclined to help McCarthy. At a caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Rep. Pete Aguilar  played a clip from the speaker’s appearance Sunday on “Face the Nation,” in which he blamed Democrats for nearly shutting down the government. In fact, more Democrats than Republicans voted for the bill to extend government funding for 45 days. 

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal said her party would be unanimous in voting against McCarthy.

“We are following our leader, and we are not saving Kevin McCarthy,” she said.

The removal of a speaker of the House is unprecedented. 

“Well it’s never happened before we’ve never had a speaker be ousted through the motion to vacate,” said Casey Burgat, assistant professor and legislative affairs program director at George Washington University. 

Gaetz has consistently opposed McCarthy’s speakership, and was among those who helped draw out the process of electing him speaker to a record 15 rounds of voting. In order to win over far-right Republicans, McCarthy agreed to a condition making it possible for a single member to motion to oust the speaker. That deal has come back to haunt him. McCarthy said Gaetz’s challenge to his speakership is “personal.” 

“He’s more interested in securing TV interviews,” McCarthy said of the Florida Republican. 

Historical precedent for ousting a speaker

There have been three resolutions offered since 1910 to declare the speakership vacant, but only one ever received a vote. 

In 1910, Republican House Speaker Joe Cannon invited a vote on his ouster, which was easily defeated. Cannon remained speaker for another year and lost his seat in the 1912 election. 

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows introduced a resolution in 2015 to remove House Speaker John Boehner from leadership. But it never received a floor vote because it wasn’t introduced as a privileged resolution, instead being referred to the House Rules Committee. Still, Boehner resigned within two months. 

In 2019, Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham introduced a resolution to expel House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and declare the Office of the Speaker vacant. The measure was referred to the House Committee on Ethics and the House Committee on Rules.

Copyright ©2023 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.