Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., makes his way to the House floor in the U.S. Capitol before a procedural vote relating to a motion to vacate against him on Tuesday, October 3, 2023.
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., makes his way to the House floor in the U.S. Capitol before a procedural vote relating to a motion to vacate against him on Tuesday. [Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images]

McCarthy becomes the first speaker removed by a U.S. House vote

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Updated October 3, 2023 at 6:10 PM ET

WASHINGTON (NPR) — The House has voted to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker, marking the first time in history that a House speaker has been removed in this way.

The final vote was 216-210 in favor of a motion to “vacate the chair.” Eight Republicans, led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, joined all Democrats present in voting against McCarthy.

Congress has now entered uncharted territory: The House will be forced to hold votes on a new speaker, though McCarthy’s defectors have not named any alternative nominee. It’s not clear whether McCarthy will run for the position again, or if any other Republican could win enough votes to secure the gavel.

The vote marks what could be the end of a fraught speakership for McCarthy. It took him 15 rounds of voting to secure the position in January. And in recent weeks, hardliners within his party blocked his efforts to pass a temporary spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, the chair of the Financial Services Committee, has been named speaker pro tempore, or interim speaker, until a new leader is elected. House Republicans are set to meet Tuesday evening to discuss the path forward.

Republicans split into factions

Gaetz, who never supported McCarthy’s candidacy in January, has cited McCarthy’s decision to pass a short-term spending bill with Democratic support as evidence he has not “fulfilled his promises” to conservatives.

After the vote Tuesday, Gaetz told reporters that this move “represents the ripping off of the band aid, and that’s what we need to do to get back on track.”

McCarthy was defiant but resigned to the vote following a lengthy meeting of House Republicans earlier in the day.

“If you throw a speaker out that has 99 percent of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we’re in a really bad place,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday morning.

Ahead of the vote, Democrats and Republicans huddled in corners and gathered in groups on the House floor, furiously trying to calculate whether or not McCarthy would survive the challenge. It would take a majority of the members present to remove McCarthy, leaving both parties tabulating exactly how many members were in the chamber for the vote.

Counting members turned into an intense project as a group of McCarthy’s critics sat in the back corner of the House floor with Gaetz, the member who set the revolt in motion. Across the room, McCarthy’s allies huddled with the speaker’s floor staff looking at notes and their phones.

Democrats refuse to save McCarthy

Ahead of the vote, there was speculation that Democrats might step in to save McCarthy’s speakership by voting “present” rather than in favor of the motion to vacate. But McCarthy said he was not willing to offer any concessions to Democrats to help him say in power.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said it would be up to Republicans to “break with extremists.”

“We are ready, willing and able to work together with our Republican colleagues but it is on them to join us to move the Congress and the country forward,” Jeffries told reporters in the Capitol.

His comments followed a lengthy “open mic” meeting of House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol complex Tuesday. One by one lawmakers got up and had one minute to advise on what they thought the caucus should do, and one by one Democrats railed on Speaker McCarthy’s record and his unwillingness to reach across the aisle.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries speaks to reporters outside of the House's chambers.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., says it is up to Republicans to find a way out of their political differences. [Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call, Inc | Getty Images]
“I think Kevin McCarthy is among the most unprincipled, untrustworthy people I ever have encountered in the entirely of my life, and I think he does damage to this institution and our democracy,” Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Democrats, told reporters.

Multiple Democrats told NPR that neither the speaker nor his allies had approached Democratic leaders with any proposal to support him.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said McCarthy’s decision to change the rules on who can propose a resolution to remove the speaker, allowing just one member to do it — a concession made for McCarthy to get the speakership in the first place — “essentially puts the fringe in charge of the House of Representatives in terms of rulemaking.”

Neal said he had a “Machiavellian position” about that decision in January: “Once you seal the deal, you have to take the consequences.”

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