From Election to Removal: Kevin McCarthy Speaker of the House
216-208. That was the final total at the end of the House session, and the end of Kevin McCarthy’s time as Speaker of the House. The 58-year-old Republican from California is the first person to ever be ousted as Speaker in this country’s history, and looking at how this Congressional term started, the problems were there from the beginning.
Let’s rewind back to January 3, 2023. The 118th Congress has been sworn in. Republicans did not win by the numbers they were expecting, only winning the majority 221-212. The divide between the parties exacerbated even more with such a slim majority. In the midst of it all is the election of a new Speaker of the House. The new Congress can not get to work without a Speaker. Democrats and Republicans spent the next four days trying and failing to elect someone, anyone, for the position. In the end, 15 ballots later, Kevin McCarthy stood triumphant with 216 votes, taking the gavel from the hand of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and becoming the new Speaker of the House.
269 days later, he was ousted by his own party.
From day one, McCarthy was making history. It had been 100 years exactly since an election for Speaker had taken more than one ballot, it took 9 ballots in 1923. The election was the fifth longest in U.S. history, just a few ballots shy of surpassing the 16th Congress’ 22 ballots.
His election was also filled with plenty of concessions. Committee assignments, rule changes, and bill proposals were given to members of his party for votes including the ultra-conservative faction the Freedom Caucus. From his concessions, he weakened his own position and made himself vulnerable during this term. One of the concessions he made was changing how representatives had to unseat the Speaker. Originally, an objection of leadership could only be brought at the direction of a party caucus. Now, if a representative, like Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida, decides to call a vote to oust the Speaker, it is brought to the floor. This one concession, above all others, put McCarthy in a bad position. If he angered a member or members of his party in any way, they could call a vote and try to oust him. What happened this past week? Matt Gaetz calls up a vote to oust McCarthy and succeeds.
February – June
McCarthy was set for an uphill battle from the beginning. Aside from the concessions he made, a massive slew of negotiations were about to start over raising the debt ceiling. His negotiations with President Joe Biden resulted in a deal the House Freedom Caucus were unhappy with. It raised the debt limit until 2025 and capped annual discretionary spending for two years. The deal, they claimed, was not enough. More cuts were needed. Republican Dan Bishop of North Carolina considered bringing the motion to vacate to the floor, but it wasn’t until a potential government shutdown that those considerations became actions.
June - September
The debt ceiling negotiations ended in June. From June until October, McCarthy was in the hot seat. One more slip-up and that could be it for him. Between those five months, Republicans ran the House. They passed legislation on a mostly party line vote. They had hearings about the border and immigration, gender-affirming care and child trafficking, and the weaponization of the federal government. They started up an impeachment inquiry on President Biden for allegations that the President used his position for his family’s financial gain. Everything seemed to be going smooth until September.
Government Shutdown and Impeachment
The House has to pass a spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year (October 1 – September 30) or else the government will shut down. 2 million employees would be without a paycheck along with 2 million active-duty troops. Conservatives in the House wanted 12 separate spending bills to be voted on. McCarthy had blocked spending bills coming from the Senate and had been trying to come up with an alternative bill with little success. Time was running out.
With no other options, Kevin McCarthy went around the Freedom Caucus and worked with Democrats and brought to the floor a continuing resolution (CR) at the 11th hour. The 70-page document would provide an extra 45 days of spending to come up with a new bill. There was no time to read the bill, something that angered House Republicans. The CR passed through the House, flew through the Senate, and was signed by Biden in the early hours of October 1.
McCarthy would be ousted just 2 days later.
216-208. The vote that has marked Kevin McCarthy’s name in history as the only person to ever be ousted from his role as Speaker of the House. 8 Republicans and 208 Democrats all voted in favor of his removal. At the end of the session, Interim Speaker Patrick McHenry of North Carolina slammed the gavel down with every ounce of strength he had.
So, what happens now?
Before the House can get to work on their impeachment inquiry or a new spending bill, they must elect a new Speaker of the House. Republicans have to decide which candidate to nominate, whether that’s Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jim Jordan of Ohio or House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Then, that nominee is brought up to the floor for a vote and must get the 218 votes required to become the new Speaker.
With just one year left for this Congressional term and one month away from the next presidential election, whoever becomes the new Speaker of the House will be entering that position at a very tumultuous time.