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With McCarthy Out, Search for New Speaker of the House Begins

Published: October 4, 2023
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) arrives as U.S. House Republicans gather for leadership elections at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on November 15, 2022. (Image: REUTERS/Leah Millis)

On Oct. 3, in a historic first, Kevin McCarthy became the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to be ousted. 

The House voted 216-210 to remove McCarthy, a vote that saw a number of Republicans, led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, vote with House Democrats to have him removed.

While Republican officials did attempt to push the recall vote to a later date so they could have time to change more minds, they failed, leading to the first time a Speaker has been removed in the House’s 113 year history. 

Eight Republicans voted with the Democrats to oust McCarthy, including Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.), Rep. Tim Burchett (Tenn.), Rep Eli Crane (Ariz.), Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Rep. Bob Good (Va.), Rep. Nancy Mace (S.C.), and Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.). 

The vote came after Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz accused McCarthy of relying on Democrat votes in order to secure a short-term spending deal on Saturday (Sept. 30) to avert a government shutdown. 

Gaetz said that McCarthy made a “secret side deal” with President Joe Biden over the weekend on aid to Ukraine. 

Search for new speaker begins

The House now has the daunting task of finding a new Speaker, someone who can gain support from a majority of the House.

The House is in recess for the next week, and the first vote for a new speaker, should someone suitable be identified, will be held on Oct. 11. 

It took 15 votes over four days for McCarthy to be elected this January.

Patrick McHenry of North Carolina will be filling the role on a temporary basis, but his powers will be limited.

According to House rules, McHenry does not have the authority to run the chamber, but “may exercise such authorities of the office of speaker as may be necessary and appropriate pending the election of a speaker.”

A number of Republican lawmakers have floated former President Donald Trump as the potential new speaker, as reported by Fox News.

“A lot of people have been asking me about it,” Trump said, but “my focus is on being president.” He added that there are many “great people” who could fill the role of Speaker.

Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the current chair of the judiciary committee and Trump supporter, confirmed he will make a run for the position, Axios reported. 

Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) is another name being considered; however, due to health concerns, he may not be up for the job. In 2017 he was badly wounded in a shooting at a House GOP baseball practice, and was diagnosed over the summer with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. 

According to CNN, Gaetz has proposed two candidates for the position, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole. 

Intense rhetoric

Commenting on the eight Republicans that ousted him, McCarthy said at a press conference on Tuesday (Oct. 3) night, “They don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry and chaotic. They are not conservatives and they do not have the right to have the title.”

Despite McHenry taking on the role on a temporary basis, albeit with limited powers, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday, that Congress was in a “dangerous situation” without an elected speaker.

On the Senate floor, Schumer said, “We find ourselves in a dangerous situation; with about 40 days to go before the government shuts down, the House has ground completely to a halt. Until Republicans stop their infighting, the House can vote on no bills. No appropriations work can get done.”

Schumer argues that with McCarthy gone, should a national security crisis emerge, the country would be in peril.

“If, God forbid, some national crisis were to occur that demands immediate action, the House would be unable to quickly respond,” Schumer said, blaming “a small band of MAGA extremists” for “plung[ing] Congress into pandemonium.”

Gaetz, who was instrumental in McCarthy’s ousting, blasted McCarthy as “a creature of the swamp.”

“He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favors. We are breaking the fever and we should elect a speaker who is better,” he said during an interview with CNN. 

Not entirely unprecedented

While McCarthy’s ousting is the first time a speaker has been formally removed from the House, two others have faced threats of removal in the past.

Newt Gingrich in 1998 and John Boehner in 2015 both stepped down as Speaker of the House before they could be voted out. They both chose to resign from the speakership and to leave Congress entirely. 

In order to secure enough votes from Republicans to become the speaker, McCarthy made a number of concessions. One was a rule that would allow any one Republican to trigger a recall vote if they were unhappy with his performance. It was this rule that was used to oust him. 

Because of this McCarthy may be viewed as the orchestrator of his own downfall. 

The Speaker is responsible for running the chamber and is second in line to the presidency. There are a number of issues that need to be addressed that will have to wait for a new speaker to be elected including agreeing to an annual budget to avoid a shutdown, deciding on what additional aid, if any, to supply Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry into sitting President Joe Biden.