For the first time in modern U.S. history, a sitting Speaker of the House is set to be forcibly removed after a revolt from his own members.
On Tuesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) lost a procedural vote that would have killed a resolution that was filed yesterday by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to remove him from the speakership—an indication that there is enough GOP support for an ultimate vote to oust him.
Although they represent a small minority of the House GOP ranks, thanks to the party’s paper-thin majority, the votes of 11 Republican lawmakers were enough to keep Gaetz’s motion to vacate the chair from being tabled.
Crucially, all House Democrats voted not to table it, too, after unifying around the position that they would not bail out McCarthy.
The final tally was 218 members opposed to tabling the motion to vacate over 208 members in favor.
With the vote on Gaetz’s resolution now on track, it’s clear that McCarthy will lose the Speaker’s gavel unless he is able to convert his own rebels—or give Democrats an incentive to bail him out.
As soon as the effort to table was defeated on Tuesday afternoon, the House moved immediately into debate over the motion to table, teeing up a swift vote on McCarthy's fate.
The California Republican has defied expectations before, most notably when he endured 15 rounds of voting in January over recalcitrant GOP opposition to win the speakership in the first place.
But McCarthy’s room to navigate himself out of this situation is narrowing by the minute. His GOP detractors are as dug-in as ever, unequivocally stating that the Speaker has lost their trust.
In fact, those who may have doomed McCarthy’s speakership were those who weren’t on board to begin with. Gaetz, along with Reps. Bob Good (R-VA), Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Eli Crane (R-AZ), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ) were among the 20 lawmakers who blocked McCarthy from the speakership for days in January.
Some surprising names joined them in the no column, such as Reps. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Warren Davidson (R-OH), who had not tipped their opposition to McCarthy ahead of time.
Reps. Tim Burchett (R-TN), Ken Buck (R-CO), Cory Mills (R-FL), and Victoria Spartz (R-IN) were the other Republicans who may have doomed McCarthy with their votes on Tuesday.
On the other hand, any deal McCarthy could cut with Democrats to remain in the job would almost certainly destroy his standing on the right and erode his tenuous alliance with former President Donald Trump.
Even then, House Democrats sounded resolute that saving McCarthy was not worth the negotiation—believing that any replacement would be an improvement.
“Most of us believe it's not possible to get someone that is more of a MAGA enabler, more dishonest, more untrustworthy,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) on Tuesday.
If McCarthy is ousted, the House would be thrown into chaos and legislative business would be frozen until a Speaker is elected, just as it was in January when McCarthy’s election took days.
Crucially, McCarthy would be free to run to reclaim his gavel. So far, no Republican lawmaker has stated their intent to run for the speakership, though Gaetz has floated McCarthy’s longtime deputy, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). (Scalise was recently diagnosed with a treatable form of blood cancer and is not seen as likely to run.)
While discontent with McCarthy in the House GOP, particularly on its far right flank, has brewed for months, it was his recent move to advance a stopgap government funding bill to avert a shutdown—with near-unanimous Democratic support—that prompted Gaetz’s gambit.