U.S. Representative Kevin McCarthy (R, CA-20) was removed from his post as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the first time a Speaker has been removed in American history. Matt Gaetz (FL-1), also a member of the Republican Party, introduced against McCarthy what is known as a “motion to vacate”—punishment for working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown. Eight Republicans joined 208 Democrats in a historic 216-210 vote.
Republicans narrowly took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the November 2022 midterm elections. In January, the House was sworn in with 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats, with a majority of the 435-member chamber being 218 votes. With just a five-seat majority, a small group of far-right Republicans refused to vote for McCarthy as Speaker unless he made massive concessions and met certain demands from the hardliners.
One of these concessions was that at any point in time, for any reason, just one of the 222 Republican members could introduce a motion to vacate McCarthy as Speaker. After agreeing to these concessions, the group of holdouts agreed to support McCarthy after five days and a record 15 Speaker ballots—the most ballots to select a Speaker since the Civil War.
In September, the narrowly divided House was tasked with funding the U.S. government by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown. A shutdown would halt paychecks to at least four million federal employees, close America’s national parks, and stop passport approvals, among other things. The House Freedom Caucus, which the holdouts in January belong to, refused to vote for the spending bills unless they contained steep cuts across the board to reduce government spending.
With just hours until a shutdown, McCarthy went around the Freedom Caucus and worked with Democrats to continue funding the government as is for 45 days. McCarthy hoped the 45 days would allow him to negotiate with his right flank and come to a consensus on funding the government.
Enraged that he worked with Democrats, Gaetz announced he would file a motion to vacate, and on Oct. 3, he did just that. When he took the House floor, fellow Freedom Caucus member Tom Cole (R, OK-4) urged his fellow Republicans to vote against the measure, breaking with Gaetz. Cole introduced a motion to table the vote, essentially putting it off indefinitely. However, 11 Republicans joined every Democrat present in voting to allow a vote on the motion to vacate.
A vote to vacate the Speaker had not been taken in 113 years, and a motion to vacate had never succeeded until Tuesday. Eight Republicans—Andy Biggs (AZ-5), Ken Buck (CO-4), Tim Burchett (TN-2), Eli Crane (AZ-2), Matt Gaetz (FL-1), Bob Good (VA-5), Nancy Mace (SC-1), and Matt Rosendale (MT-2)—joined the 208 Democrats present on the House floor in voting to remove McCarthy. Just one of those Republicans, Nancy Mace, does not belong to the Freedom Caucus. Mace voted to oust McCarthy because he broke his promises to her on her wishes to expand contraception access and act on gun violence.
Following McCarthy’s historic ouster, Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry (NC-10) became the acting Speaker of the House. Republican members were seen hugging, praying, and crying on the House floor. Hours later, McCarthy walked back on previous statements and said he would not run again for the speakership. McHenry then announced the House would have a candidate forum on Tuesday, Oct. 10, and begin voting on Oct. 11. While McHenry is acting Speaker, he does not have the power to bring legislation to the floor.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D, NY-8), the leader of the House Democrats, told the media that McCarthy had not reached out to him to see if he could negotiate a deal where some moderate Democrats could support him. In fact, it was widely reported that Jeffries played a video of McCarthy on CBS’s Face the Nation for his members, where McCarthy blamed Democrats for wanting to shut the government down. Host Margaret Brennan pointed out that more Democrats voted for the funding resolution than Republicans did.
The Speaker is the third person in the line of presidential succession. If both the President and Vice President were unable to perform their duties, the Speaker of the House becomes the acting President. So far, three Republican members have announced their bids. House Majority Leader and McCarthy’s number two Steve Scalise (LA-1) has announced. Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jim Jordan (OH-4) announced. Lastly, Rep. Kevin Hern (OK-1), a member of the House Freedom Caucus, announced his bid.
However, the Constitution does not say that the Speaker must be a member of the House of Representatives. This led Republican Rep. Troy Nehls (TX-22) to announce he will nominate former President Donald Trump to be Speaker. In January, it took the House 15 votes to select a Speaker in a process spanning five days. It’s unclear how many votes the House will take on Wednesday, Oct. 11, or if a Speaker will even be selected that day or that week.
Owen Bros, President of the Monmouth University College Democrats, stated, “It’s concerning to see the House Republican Civil War taking time away from the real interests of the American people.” Bros continued, “Even as the party in the minority, Democrats voted in higher numbers than Republicans to fund the government and avoid a catastrophic shutdown last week. This week, a small group of radical Republicans have left us without a Speaker less than four weeks from another shutdown deadline.”
Jacky Bruno, Chairman of the Monmouth University College Republicans also issued a statement, “I believe the removal of McCarthy is a negative thing. Although there are valid reasons to criticize him the division in the House is quite frankly, unacceptable.” Bruno emphasized the need for Republicans to unify, especially ahead of the 2024 election, “As we enter the thick of a major election season, the Republican Party needs more unity, not additional infighting. Staying united is intensely crucial to winning key races, both within states and federally.” Bruno said the far-right members of his party “need to band together so we can start fixing the damage that has been done to our country over the past four years.”