October 6, 2023
NEW YORK – Rare revolt seen as latest test for US Congress grappling with internal strife
For the first time in the history of the United States, the House of Representatives on Tuesday ousted its speaker, Republican Kevin McCarthy, plunging the lower chamber of Congress into turmoil and paralysis until a new leader is elected.
“The office of speaker of the House of the United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant,” said presiding Arkansas Republican Steve Womack after the 216-210 vote to remove McCarthy.
His removal left a House roiling. Lawmakers fled the chamber after the vote, some speechless at what they had witnessed. The essential institution no longer has an elected leader, the latest moment of testing for a body grappling with the aftermath of the Capitol siege on Jan 6, 2021, a Republican Party at war with itself and the US’ contested role in global leadership, The Associated Press said.
Hours after the vote, he told Republican colleagues that he will not run for speaker again.
“I will not run for speaker again,” McCarthy told reporters after a closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers on Tuesday night.
With McCarthy out, a temporary speaker put the House into recess as Republicans gathered to discuss picking a replacement.
Republican Representative Patrick McHenry was named interim speaker. He told GOP lawmakers they will hold a candidate forum next Tuesday and an election for speaker next Wednesday.
One of McHenry’s first acts in the temporary position was to oust speaker emerita Nancy Pelosi from her honorary office at the Capitol while she was away in California to pay tribute to senator Dianne Feinstein.
But it was unclear who might seek to succeed McCarthy.
The first ouster of a speaker in the House’s 234-year history was supported by only a handful of rightwing Republican hard-liners.
However, the House is almost evenly divided and with Democrats joining eight rebel Republicans rather than riding to McCarthy’s rescue, he had no way to survive.
The 58-year-old former entrepreneur had sparked fury among conservatives when he passed a bipartisan stopgap funding measure over the weekend backed by the White House to avert a government shutdown.
Florida conservative Matt Gaetz, who forced the removal vote, gambled that he could oust McCarthy with just a few Republicans, helped by Democrats loath to bail out a speaker who only recently opened a highly politicized impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
“The reason Kevin McCarthy went down today is that nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” Gaetz said. “Kevin McCarthy has made multiple contradictory promises, and when they all came due, he lost.”
Democrats pointed to his decision to renege on a deal with Biden on spending limits agreed earlier this year in high-stakes talks over the federal budget.
Country ‘won’t wait’
Biden issued a statement through his press secretary after McCarthy’s overthrow, urging the House to quickly choose a replacement, arguing that the urgent challenges facing the country “will not wait”.
The tussle came just days after the House and Senate passed a measure to avert a costly government shutdown — both with big bipartisan majorities — by extending federal funding through mid-November.
Conservatives were furious, seeing their chances dashed for forcing massive budget cuts.
They accused McCarthy of a flipflop, saying he had promised an end to hastily prepared stopgap legislation, hammered out with the support of the opposition, and a return to budgeting through the committee process.
The ousted speaker, who got the gavel in a marathon 15 rounds of balloting in January, did not immediately endorse a successor.
His decision not to run again sets up a potential showdown among McCarthy’s lieutenants — most likely House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer.
Donald Trump, who is facing 91 felony charges and was in court on Tuesday in New York as a defendant in a civil fraud trial, berated Republicans on his social media platform for “always fighting among themselves”.