Republican Kevin McCarthy was unseated on Tuesday as the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, brought down by hardliners within his own party.
The 216-to-210 vote, which saw eight Republicans voting with 208 Democrats, marked the first time in history that a leader of the lower chamber had been pushed out of office.
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His ouster came after months of infighting between McCarthy and the right wing of the GOP. McCarthy’s adversaries used the rarely-used “motion to vacate” procedure to remove the gavel.
Why was McCarthy pushed out?
Hardline Republicans had long been grumbling over over US aid being poured into war-torn Ukraine, arguing that the money could be better spent on domestic concerns, such as border security, law and order, and relief for climate-related natural disasters.
McCarthy had sought to overcome divisions by dropping provisions on aid to Ukraine to reach a bipartisan deal on a stopgap spending bill last week, a move intended to avert a disastrous shutdown that would have led to the closure of all but critical government services.
Who was behind the ouster?
Enter Matt Gaetz, a 41-year-old Florida Congressman. Gaetz, a leader of the hard right of the Republican Party, has been at the forefront of echoing former President Donald Trump’s unproven allegations that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by Joe Biden.
Gaetz is currently facing a House Ethics Committee probe into alleged sexual misconduct, drug use and misuse of funds, and some reports have suggested he is angry that McCarthy had not protected him. Gaetz has denied any personal animus as responsible for his move to remove McCarthy from the House speakership.
From COVID-19 and LGBTQ rights to race and police violence, Gaetz has been front and centre in the recent culture wars that have divided the US. He once wore a gas mask to a vote on COVID-19 funding as a sign of protest. But patience with him is running thin within his own party.
Gaetz has exasperated moderates in his own party, who have dismissed him as a ‘charlatan’. “As far as I’m concerned, when you’re working with Democrats to try to vacate the speaker, you’re a joke,” said congressman Mike Lawler, quoted in The Hill. Another lawmaker referred to him as “a smart guy without morals”.
Which other Republicans voted against McCarthy?
But Gaetz wasn’t alone in his party to vote for McCarthy’s removal.
Nancy Mace (South Carolina), Andy Biggs (Arizona), Eli Crane (Arizona), Ken Buck (Colorado), Tim Burchett (Tennessee), Bob Good (Virginia) and Matt Rosendale (Montana) were the other Republican members of Congress who voted against McCarthy.
McCarthy took the removal of the gavel with good grace. Speaking to reporters after the vote, he said: “I made history, didn’t I?” He has chosen not to run again.
Business has been suspended for a week at the House of Representatives until the Republicans hold a vote for a new speaker next Wednesday.