Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader who became the 55th speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2023, was removed from his position on Tuesday after a dramatic vote that exposed deep divisions within his party.
McCarthy faced a challenge from Rep. Matt Gaetz, a firebrand conservative who accused him of betraying the GOP base by voting to keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling in September. Gaetz, who is under federal investigation for sex trafficking allegations, claimed he had the support of at least 25 Republicans to oust McCarthy.
The vote, which was triggered by a rarely used motion to vacate the chair, required a simple majority of 218 votes to succeed. McCarthy initially had the backing of most Republicans, but he lost support after Gaetz and his allies launched a fierce campaign against him on social media and conservative outlets.
The vote was also complicated by the fact that five Democrats, who hold a slim majority in the House, decided to side with Gaetz in an attempt to sow chaos among their rivals. The Democrats, who are facing tough re-election battles in 2024, said they wanted to punish McCarthy for his role in spreading false claims of election fraud and undermining democracy.
The final tally was 223-212 in favor of removing McCarthy, with one Republican abstaining and one Democrat voting present. McCarthy became the first speaker in U.S. history to be ousted by his own party in the middle of a term.
The vote triggered a scramble for leadership positions among Republicans, who have to elect a new speaker and other top officials. Gaetz declared himself the frontrunner for the speakership, but he faces opposition from other factions within the party, including moderates, establishment figures, and Trump loyalists.
The turmoil among Republicans could have significant implications for the legislative agenda and the political landscape ahead of the midterm elections. Some analysts predict that the GOP will struggle to unify and present a coherent vision to voters, while others argue that the party will benefit from energizing its base and distancing itself from McCarthy’s unpopular compromises.