WASHINGTON — For the first time in U.S. history, U.S. lawmakers voted Tuesday to remove the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from power.
Republican Kevin McCarthy was removed from his position as speaker in a 216-210 vote triggered by a rare challenge from his own party.
Republican Representative Matt Gaetz filed a motion late Monday to force a vote on removing McCarthy, expressing frustration in McCarthy’s leadership after McCarthy failed to pass a government funding bill last week with conservative spending priorities.
The slim Republican majority in the House meant that Gaetz needed only a handful of Republicans to vote along with Democrats to oust McCarthy. The majority of Republicans voted to keep McCarthy in leadership.
“Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos because that’s where we’re headed if we vacate the speakership,” Representative Tom Cole warned fellow Republicans on the House floor Tuesday.
Gaetz responded during debate on the House floor, saying, “I don’t think voting against Kevin McCarthy is chaos. I think $33 trillion in debt is chaos. I think that facing a $2.2 trillion-dollar annual deficit is chaos. I think that not passing single-subject spending bills is chaos.”
Some Republicans have also expressed frustration over a deal McCarthy made with President Joe Biden earlier this year to cap spending levels in return for raising the debt ceiling.
“Many of us had begged the speaker, pleaded with the speaker repeatedly to utilize the debt ceiling to leverage spending cuts and reforms. Instead, he negotiated an unlimited increase to the debt ceiling,” Republican Representative Bob Good said on the House floor Tuesday, urging members to remove McCarthy.
Before Tuesday, no speaker of the House had ever been removed from the post.
“If I counted how many times someone wanted to knock me out, I would have been gone a long time ago,” McCarthy told reporters earlier Tuesday morning.
As in the recent negotiations on averting a federal government shutdown, the slim Republican majority in the House meant that Democrats had the numbers to influence the vote on McCarthy.
In a Dear Colleague letter to Democrats Tuesday morning, Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries urged his caucus to vote to remove McCarthy from the speakership.
“House Democrats remain willing to find common ground on an enlightened path forward. Unfortunately, our extreme Republican colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same. It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War,” Jeffries said in the letter.
A vote to remove McCarthy required a simple majority in the 435-member House of Representatives. Republicans control the chamber with a 221-212 majority over opposition Democrats.
McCarthy spoke with Jeffries Monday night. McCarthy said he told Jeffries, “You guys do whatever you need to do. I get politics. I understand where people are. I truly believe, though, in the institution of the House at the end of the day — if you throw a speaker out that has 99% of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we’re in a really bad place for how we’re going to run Congress.”
The challenge from Gaetz came days after McCarthy relied on votes from a Democratic bloc to pass a short-term funding measure and avoid a shutdown.
McCarthy became House speaker in January after repeated rounds of voting that saw Gaetz and other Republicans oppose his candidacy. One concession that led to McCarthy’s ultimate election was agreeing to allow any single member to call for a vote to oust the speaker.