Kevin McCarthy ousted as House Speaker by Republican rebels

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Kevin McCarthy has been ousted as Speaker of the US House of Representatives, becoming the first leader in the history of the lower chamber of Congress to be removed from the position.

In a dramatic 216-210 roll call vote on Tuesday afternoon, the House endorsed a “motion to vacate” to fire McCarthy from the speakership. Eight Republicans voted against their party leader and sided with 208 Democrats, sealing his removal.

The unprecedented vote sets the stage for an election to select a new Speaker — though as of Tuesday night, there was no consensus candidate among House Republicans, and a vote to elect the new Speaker was not expected until at least next week.

McCarthy told Republicans in a closed-door meeting after his ouster that he would not run again for Speaker. He later confirmed his decision in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“I may have lost a vote today, but I fought for what I believe in — and I believe in America,” McCarthy said. “It has been an honour to serve.”

McCarthy’s ouster underscores the sharp divides in the Republican party and threatens to usher in a new era of dysfunction in Washington. The House cannot carry out legislative business until a Speaker is elected.

The impasse comes at a fraught time for Congress, with a stop-gap measure to fund the government set to run out in mid-November and lawmakers at odds about whether to approve more US aid to Ukraine.

“This is uncharted waters,” said Jim Clyburn, the veteran Democratic congressman from South Carolina. “Nobody knows [what will happen].”

Patrick McHenry, a Republican congressman from North Carolina and close McCarthy ally, has been designated “Speaker pro tempore” to lead the chamber in the absence of an elected Speaker.

McHenry said it would be “prudent” for the House to go into recess so that its Democratic and Republican members could meet separately and “discuss the path forward”.

The Speaker is the most senior member of the lower chamber of Congress, and the second in the presidential line of succession, behind the vice-president.

The Republican revolt against McCarthy was led by Matt Gaetz, the firebrand congressman from Florida who decided to move after the Speaker struck a deal with Democrats to avert a government shutdown over the weekend.

Republicans control the lower chamber by a razor-thin margin, which gave a small number of GOP rebels power in their battle against McCarthy.

Earlier on Tuesday, Democratic leaders ruled out suggestions they would help McCarthy keep power, advising their members to “vote yes” to oust the Speaker.

“It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican civil war,” Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, said in a letter to party colleagues.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden hoped the House would “quickly elect” a new Speaker. “The American people deserve leadership that puts the issues affecting their lives front and centre,” she added.

The vote to remove McCarthy has laid bare the deepening splits within the Republican party, with the divides threatening to make Congress’s lower chamber ungovernable.

Several of the Republicans who voted to remove McCarthy on Tuesday had also opposed him in his bid to become Speaker earlier this year. McCarthy was only elected on the 15th round of voting in January.

McCarthy’s weekend deal with Democrats led to a bipartisan vote to keep the government funded at current funding levels until mid-November, when many Republicans had pushed for budget cuts.

McCarthy defended the deal, telling reporters on Capitol Hill before Tuesday’s vote: “Keeping government open, and paying our troops was the right decision. I stand by that decision. At the end of the day, if I have to lose my job over it, so be it.”

McCarthy said Gaetz had been carrying out a personal vendetta stemming from a congressional ethics investigation into allegations that the Florida congressman had engaged in sex trafficking. The Department of Justice ended its own investigation into Gaetz earlier this year without charging him. Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing.

“Matt Gaetz had planned to do this from the very beginning,” the Speaker told CNBC before the vote. “He has got personal things in his life that he has challenges with, that’s fine.”

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