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Following historic McCarthy ouster, House Republicans mull next moves

Eight Republicans joined with Democrats to boot the California lawmaker in the historic vote.

Published: October 3, 2023 5:12pm

Updated: October 4, 2023 12:14am

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his post, marking the first time the lower chamber has ousted its leader in U.S. history. The unprecedented removal of the Republican, however, comes amid a broader budget fight and has many members of the conference searching for a viable path forward.

The chamber voted 216-210 in favor of Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz's motion to vacate the chair. Eight Republicans joined with Democrats to boot the California lawmaker in the historic vote.

With McCarthy no longer leading the chamber, North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry will serve as acting Speaker. McCarthy selected him to serve as speaker pro tempore when he first took up the Speaker's gavel in January, Politico reported. The identity of the pro tempore remains a secret held by the House clerk until a sitting speaker's ouster.

The chamber adopted this process in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Congress goes home for the week

After the vote, McHenry put the House in recess and sent lawmakers home for the remainder of the week. He did, however, urge the party caucuses to meet "to discuss the path forward," according to the Associated Press.

Gaetz has since asked McHenry to reconsider the decision and encouraged the GOP to move on selecting a new leader post hate.

"We should get to electing a new, more conservative and more trustworthy Speaker immediately," he told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. "I'm calling on [Patrick Henry], who is currently the Speaker Pro Tem, to reconsider the decision that he just made to send everyone in Congress home for a week. This is not the time to go home for a week. We should stay and elect a new Speaker."

Republicans must navigate both the leadership contest and budget negotiations

Prior to McCarthy's removal, Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown over supplemental spending bills. The House and Senate approved a continuing resolution over the weekend that lacked any funding for Ukraine, a point of contention during the affair.

McCarthy's detractors were key figures in that saga, with several of his original critics tanking procedural votes ahead of the shutdown deadline to delay debate on spending packages in the hopes of shuttering Ukraine aid and securing deeper spending cuts. Stalwart McCarthy ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., was an unexpected defector on a Pentagon spending bill due to its inclusion of funds for Kyiv.

Ultimately, McCarthy and congressional leadership averted a shutdown in the short term, but only by punting the broader budget battle until Nov. 17. At present, McHenry enjoys the full powers of the Speaker and will presumably lead work on that issue until a full-time Speaker is chosen.

Prior to that vote, McCarthy had negotiated a compromise plan with the White House to limit the growth of federal spending. That agreement, however, did not address the 12 remaining appropriations bills that largely address the needs of executive agencies. These measures are likely to make up the bulk of the upcoming budget battle, which Republicans may have to wage leaderless barring the quick election of a compromise candidate.

McCarthy's difficult rise and big promises

McCarthy faced intense opposition to his leadership when first seeking the post in January, with conservative holdouts forcing 15 rounds of voting before agreeing to back him in exchange for a litany of concessions. Motivating much of the Tuesday removal effort were conservative sentiments that he had reneged on their agreement.

More than 20 conservatives held out against his leadership during that incident. Prior to Gaetz's motion to vacate, Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Penn., expressed agreement with Gaetz that McCarthy had broken the promises he made to them, but insisted that it was not an optimal time to remove him amid the ongoing budget negotiations.

With only eight Republicans voting against him, the former Speaker managed to win over more than half of his original detractors, though it was not enough for him to keep his post. South Carolina GOP Rep. Nancy Mace was a surprise vote to remove the speaker. Generally regarded as a moderate, Mace outlined her reasoning after the vote and largely echoed conservative frustrations with McCarthy.

"The Speaker has not lived up to his word on how the House would operate," she said. "No budget, no separate spending bills until it was too late, a CR which takes spending power out of the hands of the people and puts all the power into the hands of a select few. There has also been no action on many issues we care about and were promised."

"We were promised we would move on women's issues and legislation to keep our communities safe. Those things never happened," she lamented, expressing hope that her vote came "in the hopes of fixing how Congress operates."

"With the current Speaker, this chaos will continue. We need a fresh start so we can get back to the people’s business free of these distractions," Mace further insisted.

The race to replace McCarthy begins

Gaetz insisted after the vote that "[t]he fight is not over. Now we must elect a Speaker."

It remains unclear when the lower chamber will vote on a permanent replacement. McCarthy is eligible to seek the gavel once again when the House holds another vote, but signaled Tuesday evening that he would not reenter the leadership contest.

Potential House Republican leaders who could replace him including Majority Leader Steve Scalise, La., Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, N.Y., and Majority Whip Tom Emmer, Minn., though none have yet announced any plans to seek the post.

Another contender could be Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, around whom anti-McCarthy Republicans rallied in January. Donalds did not vote to remove McCarthy.

Scalise on Tuesday evening began reaching out to lawmakers to explore a leadership bid, Politico reported.

After news broke that McCarthy would not seek to reclaim the gavel, Texas GOP Rep. Troy Nehls backed former President Donald Trump for the post. Fox News host Sean Hannity on Tuesday reported, citing unnamed sources, that some lawmakers had contacted Trump about the prospect and that he expressed openness to the idea.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter.

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