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In historic first, House votes to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker

In the history of the United States, a sitting House speaker has never been ousted. That changed as Kevin McCarthy was stripped of his gavel.

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It was roughly 24 hours ago when Rep. Matt Gaetz was asked whether he expected his effort to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to succeed. The Florida Republican was not especially optimistic, telling reporters that the incumbent GOP leader would “probably” survive the far-right effort, at least until the next time Gaetz and his cohorts tried.

As it turns out, the far-right Floridian was overly pessimistic.

In the history of the United States, a sitting House speaker has never been ousted. On Tuesday, that changed as Kevin McCarthy was stripped of his gavel. NBC News reported:

This has never happened in U.S. history: The House just voted to remove its own speaker. The House voted 216-210 to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., with a handful of conservatives joining Democrats to remove him. There were 7 members absent.

Going into the process, it was clear that McCarthy had a narrow margin and could only lose a handful of members. The California Republican ended up losing eight GOP representatives:

  1. Andy Biggs of Arizona
  2. Ken Buck of Colorado
  3. Tim Burchett of Tennessee
  4. Eli Crane of Arizona
  5. Matt Gaetz of Florida
  6. Bob Good of Virginia
  7. Nancy Mace of South Carolina
  8. Matt Rosendale of Montana

Members of the octet were joined by a unanimous House Democratic conference. In theory, members of the Democratic minority could’ve sided with the incumbent, but in practice, the ousted speaker sealed his fate incrementally over the course of the last 10 months, burning bridges with the Democrats who could’ve rescued him.

So, who’s in charge? For now, Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina alerted members to the fact that he’ll now serve as speaker pro tempore, thanks to a private succession list that McCarthy submitted to the House clerk in January.

The resulting dynamic isn’t identical to the mess the public saw in early January: At that point, there was no member overseeing the chamber. In contrast, McHenry is serving in an acting capacity.

As for what happens now, Congress finds itself in unchartered waters. An NBC News report, published ahead of the vote, added: “House rules do not lay out how long the speaker pro tempore can remain in power before the chamber votes on a new permanent speaker. The House could proceed directly to the election of a new speaker or decide to hold it at a later time.”

It’s going to take some time for the dust to settle, and for the political world to come to terms with such dramatic developments, but it’s worth reemphasizing that this is the fight McCarthy desperately hoped to avoid as this Congress began.

In early January, far-right House Republicans wanted to make it easier to trigger a motion-to-vacate vote. The future speaker, reluctant to have this sword hanging over his head for two years, initially refused their demands, and fought tooth and nail against making the process easier for would-be rebels. Eventually, however, McCarthy caved in order to secure the votes he needed to get the gavel.

Almost exactly 10 months later, the vote the California Republican wanted to avoid has happened — and his gavel is gone.

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