Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been abruptly and shockingly ousted from the position by far-right Republicans.

Elected in a tumultuous multi-ballot election across multiple days, the first such vote in a century, McCarthy’s tenure was the third-shortest in American history. McCarthy was eventually elected to the job after a four-day ballot.

McCarthy, a member of House Republican leadership since 2009, was widely presumed to be the obvious candidate for speaker when Republicans narrowly took the House in 2022. 

However, the Republican majority in the House is narrow and unstable. 217 votes are needed to pass legislation and Republicans have 221 House seats, meaning GOP leadership can only afford four defections. The House Freedom Caucus has 45 members, making the far-right bloc kingmakers in the Republican-controlled House. 

While Kevin McCarthy remained a close confidant and ally of former president Donald Trump, the two shared an often hostile relationship. During the January 6 Capitol attack, McCarthy and Trump reportedly sparred in a shouting match as Trump left McCarthy to the mercy of the mob. 

The downfall of McCarthy was long assumed ‘inevitable’ by some commentators, as a concession given by McCarthy was that any House Republican could call a vote to vacate the chair — a motion to remove McCarthy. This effectively gave every Republican lawmaker a veto power on McCarthy’s leadership. 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of the highest profile far-right Republicans in Congress, eagerly made use of this concession when he triggered the vote to topple McCarthy. 

Fearing the rise of the House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy turned to Democrats, but his ‘begging’ and ‘pleading’ overtures were rejected. The vote came down to 216-210 in favor of removing McCarthy from office, composed of a strange coalition of all House Democrats and eight far-right Republicans led by Gaetz. Three Democrats and four Republicans didn’t vote. 

With McCarthy out of the job, several high-profile Republicans are seeking the nomination for speaker. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) won the nomination, but the House Freedom Caucus signaled it wouldn’t support Scalise, who withdrew.

Far-right congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) subsequently won the support of House Republicans and he now holds the nomination for speaker. Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), a seven-term Republican insider, launched a last-minute protest candidacy, but was defeated by Jordan in a secret ballot. 

Reactions from lawmakers on the recent turmoil in the Republican House conference are sharply negative. Freshman Rep. Mark Alford (R-MO) characterized the party as “a ship that doesn’t have a rudder” and Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA) saying “we’re going to have the same problem with Jordan that we had with Scalise… it’s a math problem.” 

With the extraordinarily narrow Republican majority and deep fissures within the party, a compromise nomination appears unlikely. While the House Republicans struggle to find a replacement for McCarthy, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) serves as speaker pro tempore

McHenry was installed from a secret list chosen at the discretion of former Speaker McCarthy, a rule established after 9/11 to ensure government continuity. The office of speaker pro tempore is legally distinct from speaker and does not grant McHenry the full rights of the speakership. 

Four House Democrats have suggested expanding McHenry’s rights to resolve the speakership dispute. All four House Democrats — Ed Case (D-HI), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Susie Lee (D-NV), and Jared Golden (D-ME) — are members of the bipartisan Problem Solver Caucus. 

The McHenry compromise has proved fruitless and a vote on Rep. Jim Jordan’s nomination will be brought to a House vote in the coming week. It remains unclear whether Jordan will be able to collect the votes needed to win the speakership, as the fractured House Republicans continue to squabble. 

The chaotic situation in the House Republican conference signals the end of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s political career, as the disgraced former speaker dodges rumors of retirement. The lofty ambitions of the California congressman have gone up in smoke as McCarthy leaves a short page for himself in the history books. 

In the ensuing chaos, Democrats have been the beneficiaries of Republican infighting. Chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), signaled the need to capitulate to Democrat demands to resolve the speakership crisis. “At this point, we’re having a hard time keeping the House floor open,” Turner lamented on ‘Face the Nation,’ and continued, “obviously there will be a deal” with House Democrats. 

At the present, an end to the whirlwind of chaos ignited by Kevin McCarthy’s removal seems far in the distance. Movement on legislation before the House seems unrealistic, as infighting between the majority Republicans prevents any coalition from administering real authority in Congress’ lower chamber. The minority Democrats meanwhile have reveled in the chaos, delivering an embarrassing blow to Republicans by ousting McCarthy. Whatever the resolution to the crisis, the Republicans have come out weaker and divided. 

First-year Richie Dockery is a Staff Writer. His email is rdockery@fandm.edu.