Speaker McCarthy’s job at risk after House votes to move ahead with hard-right effort to oust him

by Ethan Kim
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House Leadership Chaos

The precarious position of Speaker Kevin McCarthy came into focus on Tuesday as the House of Representatives voted to proceed with a historic motion, led by hard-right critics, aimed at removing the embattled Republican leader from his position as Speaker.

This high-stakes showdown, instigated by McCarthy’s chief rival, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, brought together a coalition of conservative Republican critics of the Speaker and many Democrats who question his suitability for leadership. The vote saw 218 in favor of advancing the motion to oust McCarthy, with 208 against, including 11 Republicans who supported the effort.

Following this vote, the House engaged in an extraordinary floor debate, a rare occurrence in modern times, preceding the upcoming vote on what could be a “motion to vacate the chair” – a procedure that has not been utilized in Congress for a century.

For McCarthy, a seasoned politician from California, this represents a moment of significant uncertainty and the most severe challenge to his leadership yet. This potential removal is driven by mounting dissatisfaction but was ignited by his recent decision to collaborate with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown, rather than risking one.

McCarthy has asserted that he will not seek a deal with Democrats to retain his position, and it’s doubtful he would receive their support even if he did. Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries announced that while he wishes to work with Republicans, he is not willing to provide the votes necessary to rescue McCarthy.

As the House convened, Gaetz, a prominent ally of former President Donald Trump, presented his motion. Gaetz is a leading figure among hard-right Republicans who have been at odds with McCarthy for weeks, stemming from their opposition to his previous bid for the Speaker’s gavel.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma expressed his concern as the debate commenced, urging his colleagues not to plunge the House Republican majority “into chaos.” In response, Gaetz retorted during the debate, “Chaos is Speaker McCarthy.”

Throughout the fiery debate, McCarthy’s fate remained uncertain, with much of the criticism directed at his honesty and ability to fulfill promises made since January to satisfy his majority with his leadership.

Nonetheless, a succession of McCarthy supporters, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a founding leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, defended him, asserting, “I think he has kept his word.”

If Democrats vote in favor alongside conservative rebels, it would take the support of only a few Republicans from McCarthy’s slim majority to remove him as Speaker.

Behind closed doors, both Republicans and Democrats held private meetings ahead of this historic vote. McCarthy encouraged fellow Republicans to proceed, saying, “If I counted how many times someone wanted to knock me out, I would have been gone a long time ago.”

He clarified that he had not sought assistance from Democratic leader Jeffries for votes to retain his position, nor had any demands been made.

During this meeting in the Capitol basement, McCarthy invoked the memory of the last Republican Speaker, Joseph Cannon, who more than a century ago confronted his critics by setting the vote himself on his removal. Cannon survived that challenge, marking the first time the House had voted to consider removing its Speaker.

McCarthy received three standing ovations during the private meeting, signifying strong support among Republicans. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., a member of the House Freedom Caucus, described the show of hands in favor of McCarthy as “overwhelming.”

However, across the aisle, Democrats convened and united around a shared sentiment that McCarthy could not be trusted. Several lawmakers expressed their lack of confidence in him.

The potential removal of the Speaker could plunge House Republicans into disarray as they search for a new leader. McCarthy himself faced 15 rounds of voting in January, spanning multiple days, before securing the support needed to assume the role of Speaker. At present, there is no apparent GOP successor.

Former President Trump, the leading Republican contender in the 2024 race against President Biden, voiced his dissatisfaction with the internal strife among Republicans, questioning why they are perpetually at odds with each other.

In the midst of this political turbulence, McCarthy’s key ally, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., used social media to rally support for “our speaker” and advocate an end to the chaos afflicting the Republican majority.

This snap vote unfolds as Republicans attempt to address a key demand from Gaetz and others: advancing the 12 annual spending bills and avoiding another stopgap measure like the one approved just before the government shutdown deadline last weekend.

Some Republicans are frustrated with McCarthy for relying on Democratic votes to pass the temporary measure to keep the government funded until November 17, instead of advocating for a government shutdown as they seek deeper spending cuts. Simultaneously, Democrats are unhappy with McCarthy for reneging on the debt deal made with President Biden earlier this year, which had already established federal spending levels, as he aligns himself with the right-wing faction pushing for significant spending reductions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Leadership Turmoil

What led to the House voting to remove Speaker McCarthy from his position?

The House voted to oust Speaker McCarthy due to a high-stakes showdown initiated by hard-right critics, including Rep. Matt Gaetz, who gathered support from conservative Republican critics and some Democrats. This move was triggered by McCarthy’s decision to work with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown, which fueled dissatisfaction among his own party members.

What was the outcome of the House vote on McCarthy’s removal?

The vote resulted in 218 members in favor of advancing the motion to oust McCarthy and 208 against it, with 11 Republicans supporting the effort. This set the stage for an unprecedented floor debate on McCarthy’s potential removal as Speaker.

What were the main points of contention against Speaker McCarthy during the debate?

Critics raised concerns about McCarthy’s truthfulness and his ability to fulfill promises he had made to his party’s majority since January. Many Democrats and conservative Republicans questioned his leadership, leading to this extraordinary challenge.

What role did former President Trump play in this situation?

Former President Trump expressed frustration with the internal division among Republicans and questioned why they were in constant conflict with each other, adding a layer of complexity to the situation.

What are the potential consequences of removing Speaker McCarthy?

Removing McCarthy would leave House Republicans in disarray as they seek a new leader. It could impact the party’s ability to advance its agenda and maintain cohesion during a critical time in American politics.

Why did some Republicans prefer a government shutdown?

Some Republicans were dissatisfied with McCarthy’s decision to rely on Democratic votes to fund the government temporarily, as they sought deeper spending cuts. They believed a government shutdown would have been a more effective strategy.

What is the significance of this vote in Congress?

This vote marked an extraordinary moment in Congress, as it considered a motion to remove its Speaker, something that had not occurred in over a century. It reflects the deep divisions and political turmoil within the Republican party.

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