Kevin McCarthy removed as US House speaker in unprecedented vote

Republican speaker fails to face down a challenge from a small faction of right-wing conservatives.

Republican Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters hours after he was removed as speaker of the House
Republican Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters hours after he was removed as speaker of the House on October 3, 2023 in Washington, DC [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

The United States House of Representatives has voted to remove Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the result of infighting within his own party and persistent challenges from its rightward flank.

McCarthy was expelled from his role in a 216-210 vote on Tuesday evening, the first time in US history that the House has voted to remove its leader.

“Speaker McCarthy has failed to take a stand where it matters,” far-right Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who launched the effort to remove McCarthy, said in a social media post before the vote. “So if he won’t, I will.”

The unprecedented vote underscores growing turmoil in the Republican Party, also known as the GOP, with its hard-right faction sparring with McCarthy on several occasions since he first became the speaker in January. There is no clear choice within the party to replace him.

In the vote, eight Republicans broke with the speaker, sinking his chances of securing the majority needed to keep his job. Democrats, who have expressed frustration with McCarthy over what they see as his efforts to appeal to the Republican’s hard right, refused to vote in his favour.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden hoped the House would quickly select a new speaker, saying the “urgent challenges facing our nation will not wait”.

Jean-Pierre added: “The American people deserve leadership that puts the issues affecting their lives front and centre.”

“Once the House has met their responsibility to elect a speaker, he [Biden] looks forward to working together with them and with the Senate to address the American people’s priorities,” Jean-Pierre said.

Without a speaker, the House is unable to push through bills, including vital spending bills.

McCarthy has announced that he will not run for speaker again.

INTERACTIVE - House of Representatives speaker structure graphic-1696400858
(Al Jazeera)

‘Entirely personal’

Adolfo Franco, a lawyer and Republican Party strategist, speaking from Florida told Al Jazeera that it was a “five-seat majority in a divided government” that removed McCarthy.

“The reality is we have a democratic president, we have a democratic Senate. We don’t have absolute majorities. Mr Gaetz is living in a fantasy world. So I feel terrible for a man who has accomplished so much for our country to be ousted,” Franco said.

Franco said the removal of McCarthy led by Gaetz was “entirely personal”.

“It is driven personally. It is a personal vendetta.”

Former US Vice President Mike Pence said he was “deeply disappointed” by McCarthy’s removal.

“Let me say that chaos is never America’s friend. And it’s never a friend of American families that are struggling. And I’m deeply disappointed that a handful of Republicans would partner with the Democrats in the House of Representatives to oust the Speaker of the House,” he said.

Relations between McCarthy and his caucus have been rocky from the start. He only secured the speakership after 15 rounds of voting in the House, due to the opposition of a handful of right-wing legislators.

Those tensions came to a head amid efforts to avoid a government shutdown over the weekend.

McCarthy and Democratic lawmakers reached a deal that provided short-term funding for the government and avoided a shutdown, following a failed effort by Republicans to push through a bill that would have imposed dramatic cuts of as much as 30 percent on a number of social programmes.

On Monday evening, Gaetz launched an effort to remove McCarthy, alleging he had betrayed the party by working towards a compromise deal with Democrats to avoid a shutdown.

McCarthy took to social media with a defiant message: “Bring it on.” Less than 24 hours later, he became the first House speaker in US history to be removed from the role in a congressional vote.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies