The House has voted to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker, marking the first time in history that a House speaker has been removed in this way.
The final vote was 216-210 in favor of a motion to “vacate the chair.” Eight Republicans, led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, joined all Democrats present in voting against McCarthy.
Congress has now entered uncharted territory: The House will be forced to hold votes on a new speaker, though McCarthy’s defectors have not named any alternative nominee. It’s not clear whether McCarthy will run for the position again, or any other Republican can win enough votes to secure the gavel.
The vote marks what could be the end of a fraught speakership for McCarthy. It took him 15 rounds of voting to secure the position in January. And in recent weeks, hardliners within his party blocked his efforts to pass a temporary spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, the chair of the Financial Services Committee, has been named speaker pro tempore, or interim speaker, until a new speaker is elected. House Republicans are set to meet this evening to discuss the path forward.
Republicans split into factions
McCarthy was defiant but resigned to the vote following a lengthy meeting of House Republicans on Tuesday morning.
“If you throw a speaker out that has 99 percent of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we’re in a really bad place,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday morning.
Ahead of the vote, Democrats and Republicans huddled in corners and gathered in groups on the House floor, furiously trying to calculate whether or not McCarthy would survive the challenge. It would take a majority of the members present and voting to remove McCarthy, leaving both parties tabulating exactly how many members were in the chamber.
Counting members turned into an intense project as a group of McCarthy’s critics sat in the back corner of the House floor with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the member who set the revolt in motion. Across the room, McCarthy’s allies huddled with the speaker’s floor staff looking at notes and their phones.
McCarthy admitted that he may not have enough Republican votes to remain speaker, but he says he isn’t willing to offer any concessions to Democrats to help him say in power.
Democrats refuse to save McCarthy
That defiant tone helped unify Democrats against him, opting instead to let Republicans sort out their differences on their own.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said it is up to Republicans to “break with extremists.”
“We are ready, willing and able to work together with our Republican colleagues but it is on them to join us to move the Congress and the country forward,” Jeffries told reporters in the Capitol.
Jeffries also informed members that he and other party leaders will vote to remove McCarthy if and when a vote came to the House floor.
His comments followed a lengthy “open mic” meeting of House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol complex Tuesday. One by one lawmakers got up and had one minute to advise on what they thought the caucus should do and one by one Democrats railed on Speaker McCarthy’s record and his unwillingness to reach across the aisle.
“I think Kevin McCarthy is among the most unprincipled, untrustworthy people I ever have encountered in the entirely of my life, and I think he does damage to this institution and our democracy,” Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Democrats, told reporters.
She pointed out that McCarthy did a television interview on Tuesday saying he didn’t need any help from Democrats so she didn’t see any reason to help him survive.
Multiple Democrats told NPR neither the speaker, nor his allies, have approached Democratic leaders with any proposal to support him.
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said McCarthy’s decision to change the rules on who can propose a resolution to remove the speaker, allowing just one member to do it, “essentially puts the fringe in charge of the House of Representatives in terms of rulemaking.” Neal said he had a “Machiavellian position” about that decision in January: “Once you seal the deal, you have to take the consequences.”
This story will be updated.