Kevin McCarthy was axed Tuesday as speaker of the US House of Representatives in a brutal, historic rebellion by far-right Republicans furious at his cooperation with Democrats.
The maneuver laid bare the chaotic levels of infighting among Republicans heading to the 2024 presidential election almost certainly led by Donald Trump, who is making history of his own as the first former or serving president to be the target of multiple criminal indictments.
The first ouster of a speaker in the House’s 234-year history was supported by only a handful of right-wing Republican hardliners. However, the House is almost evenly divided and with Democrats joining eight rebel Republicans rather than riding to McCarthy’s rescue, he had no way to survive.
The 58-year-old former entrepreneur — who did not comment as he left the chamber — had sparked fury among conservatives when he passed a bipartisan stopgap funding measure at the weekend backed by the White House to avert a government shutdown.
Florida conservative Matt Gaetz, who forced the removal vote, gambled that he could oust McCarthy with just a few Republicans, helped by Democrats loath to bail out a speaker who only recently opened a highly politicized impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
Republicans were warned by their leadership about plunging the party “into chaos” but Gaetz, who has repeatedly complained about McCarthy failing to honor agreements made with conservatives, retorted: “Chaos is Speaker McCarthy.”
“The reason Kevin McCarthy went down today is because nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” he added after the vote. “Kevin McCarthy has made multiple contradictory promises, and when they all came due, he lost.”
Democrats, too, had no love for McCarthy, pointing to his decision to renege on a deal with Biden on spending limits agreed earlier this year in high-stakes talks over the federal budget.
– ‘Pigsty of incompetence’ –
The New Democrat Coalition, a bloc of pro-business Democratic lawmakers, described McCarthy as “simply not trustworthy.” And Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, a leading leftist, vowed to let Republicans “wallow in their pigsty of incompetence” rather than rescue McCarthy.
The tussle came two days after the House and Senate passed a measure to avert a costly government shutdown — both with big bipartisan majorities — by extending federal funding through mid-November.
Conservatives were furious, seeing their chances dashed for forcing massive budget cuts.
They accused McCarthy of a flip-flop, saying he’d promised an end to hastily prepared stopgap legislation, hammered out with the support of the opposition, and a return to budgeting through the committee process.
The writing was on the wall after Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries encouraged his members to oust McCarthy. Every Democrat then joined 11 rebel Republicans to reject a preliminary motion that would have blocked the final ouster vote.
With McCarthy out, a temporary speaker put the House into recess until a permanent replacement is elected.
Republicans will gather at 6:30 pm (2230 GMT) to discuss putting up a candidate for a vote to be the new speaker — and it is not out of the question that McCarthy could be nominated for a return to the role he just lost.
It took 15 rounds of balloting for the Californian to win the gavel in January, but the fight demonstrated that he has the support of most of the party, and he could try to persuade the rank-and-file to rally behind him once more.
Alternatively, he may bow out. This could set up a showdown among his lieutenants — most likely House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer.
But Republican hopefuls may shy from taking on what looks like a poisoned chalice in which the hard-right faction will continue to exercise control from the sidelines.
Trump — who is facing 91 felony indictments and was in court Tuesday in New York as a defendant in a civil fraud trial — berated Republicans on his social media platform for “always fighting among themselves.” Tellingly, though, he offered no support for McCarthy.