The House voted on Tuesday to oust Kevin McCarthy from the Speakership, a move without precedent that left the chamber without a leader and plunged it into chaos.
After a far-Right challenge to McCarthy’s leadership, eight Republican hardliners joined Democrats to strip the California Republican of the Speaker’s gavel. The 216-210 vote reflected the deep polarisation in Congress and raised questions about who, if anyone, could muster the support to govern an increasingly unruly House Republicans majority.
“The office of speaker of the House of the United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant,” Representative Steve Womack, a McCarthy ally who presided over the chamber during the vote, declared after banging the gavel to finalise the result.
Soon after, McCarthy told Republicans behind closed doors that he would not seek to reclaim the post, ending a tumultuous nine months as speaker. Republicans said they would leave Washington until next week, with no clear path to finding a new speaker of the House.
“I don’t regret standing up for choosing governance over grievance,” McCarthy said at a news conference after the meeting. “It is my responsibility. It is my job. I do not regret negotiating; our government is designed to find compromise.”
It was the culmination of bitter Republican divisions that have festered all year and capped a power struggle between McCarthy and members of a far-Right faction who tried to block his ascent to the speakership in January.
They have tormented him ever since, trying to stymie his efforts to keep the nation from defaulting on its debt and ultimately rebelling over his decision over the weekend to turn to Democrats for help in keeping the government from shutting down.
Before the vote, a surreal Republican-against-Republican debate played out on the House floor. Members of the hard-Right clutch of rebels disparaged their own Speaker and verbally sparred with McCarthy’s defenders, who repeatedly accused the hardliners of sowing chaos to raise their own political profiles. Democrats sat and watched silently.
The vote left the House paralysed until a successor was chosen. That promised to tee up another potentially messy Speaker election at a time when Congress has just over 40 days to avert another potential government shutdown.
Race to fill post
Representative Jim Jordan, a leading antagonist of Democratic President Joe Biden, became the first Republican on Wednesday to launch a run for Speaker to succeed the ousted Kevin McCarthy.
Jordan will likely contend with Steve Scalise, the chamber’s number two Republican, and several other candidates in what could be a lengthy and likely messy battle to fill the post.
Republicans have set an October 11 vote to choose a successor and are supposed to meet the day before to hear from their candidates.
Jordan, a combative conservative who has led investigations of the Biden administration, is the first to publicly say he is interested in the job.
“We need to unite the caucus, I think I can do that,” he told reporters. Jordan, 59,first gained prominence as a vocal leader of the party’s Right- wing before eventually forming an alliance with McCarthy.