Kevin McCarthy ousted as speaker in historic US House vote
Washington — A handful of Republicans in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday ousted Republican speaker Kevin McCarthy, as party infighting plunged Congress into further chaos just days after it narrowly averted a government shutdown.
The 216-to-210 vote marked the first time in history that the House removed its leader, with eight Republicans voting with 208 Democrats to remove McCarthy.
The rebellion was led by representative Matt Gaetz, a far-right Republican from Florida and McCarthy antagonist who accused the party leader of not doing enough to cut federal spending.
“Kevin McCarthy is a creature of the swamp. He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favours. We are breaking the fever now,” Gaetz told reporters after the vote.
It was the latest moment of high drama in a year when the Republican-controlled House brought Washington to the brink of default and the edge of a partial government shutdown.
Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, meaning they can afford to lose no more than five votes if Democrats unite in opposition.
The vote left Congress in uncharted waters as it scrambles to update farm-subsidy and nutrition programs, pass government funding bills, and consider further aid to Ukraine.
It was unclear who would succeed McCarthy.
Other Republican leaders like Steve Scalise and Tom Emmer could possibly be candidates, though neither has publicly expressed interest. Another member of the leadership team, Representative Patrick McHenry, was named to the post on a temporary basis.
The last two Republican speakers, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, retired from Congress after clashes with their right wing.
In theory, legislators could vote to give McCarthy back the job. He did not respond to questions after the vote.
In debate on the House floor, Gaetz and a handful of allies criticised McCarthy for relying on Democratic votes to pass temporary funding that headed off a partial government shutdown.
“We need a speaker who will fight for something — anything — other than staying on as speaker,” said Republican representative Bob Good.
Representative Nancy Mace told reporters she voted to remove McCarthy as speaker because he broke promises to her on improving access to birth control and supporting a bill she wrote on rape kits.
“I’ve made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, that he has not kept to help women in this country,” Mace said. “We have done nothing for them.
Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos, because that’s where we're headed.Republican Tom Cole
“When you shake my hand and you make a promise and you don't keep it, there are consequences,” she told reporters.
McCarthy’s supporters, including some of the chamber’s most vocal conservatives, said McCarthy had successfully limited spending and advanced other conservative priorities even though Democrats control the White House and the Senate. They warned their gains would be at risk if they removed their leader.
“Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos, because that’s where we're headed,” said Republican representative Tom Cole.
McCarthy found no support from Democrats during the roll-call vote, despite speculation that some might vote for him to keep the chamber on an even keel.
Democrats said they viewed McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke an agreement on spending with Democratic President Joe Biden, and were angered by his decision to greenlight an impeachment investigation of the president.
“Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence,” representative Pramila Jayapal told reporters before the vote.
Gaetz was one of more than a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy’s bid for speaker in January. McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting. To win the job, McCarthy agreed to rules that made it easier to challenge his leadership.
McCarthy supporters have said Gaetz was motivated by a hunger for publicity, a chance to win higher office, or resentment over an ongoing ethics probe into possible sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.
Representative Garret Graves said Gaetz had been fundraising off his effort to oust McCarthy. “It’s disgusting,” he said.
Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he is not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.
“This isn’t a critique of the individual — it’s a critique of the job. The job hasn’t been done,” he said.
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