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By Marco Flores

         On October 3rd, the United States House of Representatives voted 216-210 to oust Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as Speaker of the House, marking the first time a sitting Speaker was ever voted out. Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz introduced a motion to vacate on October 2nd, forcing a vote on McCarthy’s removal within two legislative days, citing that the speaker failed at his job and keeping the promises he made to conservative hardliners. Without a speaker, the House is now paralyzed and the House GOP is left in complete chaos. 

The question is: What happens now? With a government shutdown looming and demand for aid to Ukraine and Israel putting pressure on the US government, House Republicans need to get their act together and quickly elect a new speaker. That’s easier said than done, however. Increasing tensions between factions threaten to tear the Republican party apart.

         Even though Republicans won back control of the House, they severely underperformed in the 2022 House elections, only managing to flip 9 seats (just barely enough to win the majority). Because House Republicans only had a 222-213 majority, McCarthy’s path to Speakership wasn’t going to be easy: he needed to win the support of the far-right members. On January 7th, McCarthy finally won the speakership after going through 15 votes in a span of 4 days, negotiating a deal that made a number of concessions to win over enough support from the Freedom Caucus, a hardline congressional caucus of 45 members. The final House vote was 216-212 in favor of McCarthy, with 6 GOP dissenters voting “present”. However, those concessions involved McCarthy essentially giving up his powers to appease the far-right members. This effectively made McCarthy a Speaker in name only (SPINO), while the hardliners were the ones running the show. One concession McCarthy made was allowing just one member to call for the motion to vacate the Speakership, something that’s come back to haunt him. The next couple of months would prove to be a nightmare for McCarthy and his loyal House members.

         In May 2023, McCarthy and President Joe Biden negotiated a deal to resolve a debt-ceiling crisis and avoid an imminent debt default. However, this move angered the hardliners like Gaetz, who wanted a more conservative deal. They responded by killing a bill aimed at protecting gas stoves from being targeted by federal regulations. McCarthy was left dealing with increased mutiny from his party as he was backed into a corner, trying to decide whether to pass legislation with broad bipartisan support by working with Democrats, or pass legislation with the hardliners that have no chance at passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. These tensions would explode by October.

         However, in September, the House GOP was tasked with a series of appropriations bills to avert a government shutdown. But like the debt-ceiling crisis, they struggled to pass anything. With House Republicans unable to pass these bills, it seemed that a government shutdown was inevitable. The Freedom Caucus threatened to oust McCarthy if he worked with Democrats to pass a compromise bill. On September 30th, just hours before the shutdown was supposed to happen, the House passed a bipartisan continuing resolution to fund the government through November 17, with the final vote being 335-91. The resolution was passed in the Senate and signed by President Biden, temporarily averting a shutdown. McCarthy’s reliance on Democratic votes to pass the continuing resolution proved the final straw for Gaetz, who soon thereafter announced his plans to oust McCarthy during an interview on CNN.

         McCarthy responded to Gaetz’s threats by posting on X (formerly known as Twitter) with one bold message: “Bring it on.” Tom Cole, chairman of the House Rules Committee and an ally of McCarthy, unsuccessfully tried to remove the motion from consideration. Following an hour of debate between Cole and Gaetz, the motion passed: McCarthy was officially removed as Speaker. All Democrats voted with 8 Republicans to oust McCarthy.

         The question is: Why didn’t House Democrats vote to save McCarthy? Their reasoning is that they simply couldn’t trust him. McCarthy threw House Democrats under the bus by going on live television and blaming them for steering America into a potential government shutdown, despite Democrats being the ones who worked with him to keep the government open. McCarthy had also refused to negotiate with Democrats into supporting him. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries released a statement prior to the motion, stating that House Democrats would not attempt to save him, arguing that this was McCarthy and House Republicans’ mess to clean. Because Democrats refused to support McCarthy, his fate was sealed.

         Following McCarthy’s ouster, North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry, a close ally of McCarthy, was appointed as his temporary replacement as speaker pro tempore of the House. The moment when McHenry angrily slammed the gavel went viral. During a press conference, McCarthy said that he would not seek the speakership again, triggering an election to fill the role. Most House Republicans were furious at Gaetz and the seven Republicans for ousting the speaker and called for them to be punished. Mike Lawler, a NY freshman Republican Congressman and one of McCarthy’s most loyal supporters, called for Gaetz to be expelled from Congress.

         The removal of Kevin McCarthy from his speakership was entirely on him. Because he was a weak leader who couldn’t get his party together, McCarthy’s time as speaker proved to be his nightmare. By contrast, the 117th Congress saw Democrats with a 222-213 majority in the House. Yet Speaker Pelosi and Democrats were still able to work together and pass critical pieces of legislation despite this narrow majority. This is not the case for House Republicans. They’ve shown that they are too busy fighting amongst themselves to get their act together. In short, McCarthy made the mistake of trying to please everyone in his party instead of being a leader. 

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