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Kevin McCarthy Loses Speakership Amid Gaetz-Led Charge

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WASHINGTON— Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) successfully ousted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy by a razor-thin margin on Tuesday afternoon. Gaetz rallied eight dissatisfied House conservatives to vote with Democrats, ending McCarthy’s speakership by a margin of 216-210 votes. Never in the history of the United States has the Speaker of the House lost his post in a motion to vacate.

As Republicans prepared to take back the House last fall, McCarthy addressed questions about whether he could win the speakership in an interview with The Federalist. “I’ve had people push and do different things,” he said. “But if you’re able to be running for speaker, that means all you’ve ever done is win. And I don’t think you change the coach then.”

After McCarthy’s 269 days atop the conference, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) now serves as interim speaker. McCarthy could win a vote to reassume the chair, but Republicans are looking at other members, from Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). 

Speaking on background after the vote, one Republican lobbyist said Jordan “feels like the guy to me” but cautioned that it would become clearer after the GOP conference met later on Tuesday evening. Gaetz floated Emmer as an option. A senior GOP aide told The Federalist on Tuesday that Emmer, an establishment stalwart, is seen as playing a crucial negotiator role in HFC wins this year.

House Republicans are thrust suddenly back to the chaos of early January, flailing to cobble enough votes together to elect a Republican speaker with the party’s narrow nine-member majority. McCarthy, who yielded to Paul Ryan when John Boehner stepped down in 2015 and assumed the minority leadership position in 2019, proved to be the only person capable of bringing together enough centrists and conservatives — and even then, it took him 15 ballots and a host of concessions to get the gavel.

Indeed, it was one of those very concessions that enabled Gaetz to yank the gavel from his hands on the heels of McCarthy’s weekend deal to avert a government shutdown. Before Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a change in 2019 — having watched former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) challenge Boehner’s reign — the “motion to vacate” the speakership could always be filed by one member. As CBS News reported in January, “Under Pelosi, a motion to vacate could be offered on the House floor only if a majority of either party agreed to it.”

In order to become Speaker, McCarthy conceded to members of the Freedom Caucus that he would undo Pelosi’s change. Citizens for Renewing America President Russ Vought, an ally of the Freedom Caucus who served as Donald Trump’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, released a statement on the heels of Tuesday’s vote, calling the motion “the most critical” of the concessions made in January.

“If Kevin McCarthy were to violate the power sharing agreement, the motion to vacate would be available to topple the coalition government in exchange for a new one,” said Vought. “He did that–twice–on the most vital leverage points that provided opportunities to check the Biden Administration. Instead of working with conservatives, he chose to go into a coalition with House Democrats on those critical votes.”

Vought’s statement referred to McCarthy’s deals to lift the debt ceiling in May and to support passage of a continuing resolution on Sunday that would fund the government for another 45 days.

“No significant policy priorities have thus been achieved. None,” added Vought. “Today, 8 brave members took action against a status quo that offered no hope of any different results.”

With Freedom Caucus conservatives including Reps. Jordan and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) speaking on the floor in McCarthy’s favor, the fight over McCarthy did not fall along neat ideological lines.

For conservatives, the vote demanded members pick their poison. With a slim margin in the House and Democrat control of the Senate and White House, Republicans had little power to fundamentally undercut the Washington uniparty. The options were to take small wins under McCarthy or cast the conference into chaos, hoping the move would scare GOP elites enough to outweigh the little victories.

“The legislative process is not about clean, predictable outcomes,” the senior GOP aide told The Federalist. “It’s about representation through deliberation. It gets messy, but this is why we’re here.”


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