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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House ousts McCarthy from speakership

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), surrounded by reporters, walks to the House floor at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 2, 2023.

By Catie Edmondson

The House on Tuesday voted to oust Kevin McCarthy from the speakership, a move without precedent in modern history that left the chamber without a leader and plunged it into chaos.

Democrats joined with a small group of hard-liners in McCarthy’s own party to strip the California Republican of the speaker’s gavel in a 216-210 vote. It was the culmination of a bitter power struggle between McCarthy and members of a far-right faction who tried to block his ascent to the speakership in January and have tormented him ever since, trying to stymie his efforts to keep the government funded and the nation from defaulting on its debt.

Before the vote, a surreal Republican-against-Republican debate played out on the House floor as members of the hard-right clutch of rebels railed against their own speaker and verbally sparred with McCarthy’s defenders. Democrats sat silently.

A tense scene played out on the floor as lawmakers voted to oust the speaker the same way they vote to elect one: by sitting on the House floor and rising one by one in an alphabetical roll-call by conducted by the clerk.

A vacancy in the speaker’s chair essentially paralyzes the House until a successor is chosen, according to multiple procedural experts. That promises to tee up another potentially messy speaker election at a time when Congress has just over 40 days to avert another potential government shutdown.

In the hours before the vote, McCarthy, an inveterate optimist who prides himself on never giving up, was characteristically sanguine, saying he was confident about his ability to survive and defending his decision to work with Democrats to avert a government shutdown, which precipitated the bid to remove him.

“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,” he said Tuesday morning. In a closed-door meeting underneath the Capitol, he told Republicans he had no regrets about his speakership, and was interrupted several times by raucous standing ovations.

Here’s what else to know:

— McCarthy’s critics took to the floor to savage him for what they characterized as a failure to wring steeper spending cuts out of the Biden administration and a lack of leadership. “Chaos is Speaker McCarthy,” Gaetz declared. “Chaos is somebody who we cannot trust with their word.”

— In the days leading up to the vote, Democrats had wrestled with whether to help McCarthy survive, or at least to stay out of the effort to oust him. But in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the minority leader, instructed fellow Democrats not to do so, citing Republicans’ “unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism.” Democrats were not participating in the floor debate over whether to oust the speaker.

— There is no clear replacement for McCarthy. “I think there’s plenty of people who can step up and do the job,” said Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, one of the rebels who voted to push McCarthy out, adding that he did not know who he had in mind for the job instead.

— The proceedings that played out Tuesday have taken place only once before in the House of Representatives, in 1910. Back then, progressive Republicans tried to remove then-Speaker Joseph Cannon, a conservative known as “Uncle Joe,” for refusing to bring their priorities to the floor for a vote. He survived that vote, but was weakened as a result.

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