In a dramatic 216-210 vote on Tuesday afternoon, the House endorsed a “motion to vacate” to in effect fire Mr McCarthy from the speakership. Eight Republicans voted against their party leader and sided with 208 Democrats, sealing his removal from the post.
The unprecedented vote sets the stage for an election to select a new speaker, as Mr McCarthy later reportedly told colleagues he would not run for House Speaker again.
The historic vote underscores the sharp divides in the Republican Party and threatens to usher in a new era of dysfunction in Washington. The House cannot carry out legislative business until a new speaker is elected.
“This is uncharted waters,” said Jim Clyburn, the Democratic congressman from South Carolina. “Nobody knows.”
The speaker of the House is the most senior member of the lower chamber of Congress, and the second in the presidential line of succession, behind the vice-president.
The Republican revolt against Mr McCarthy was led by Matt Gaetz, the firebrand congressman from Florida who decided to move after the speaker struck a deal with Democrats to avert a government shutdown over the weekend.
Republicans control the lower chamber of Congress by a razor-thin margin, giving a small number of GOP rebels power in their battle against Mr McCarthy.
Earlier on Tuesday, Democratic leadership ruled out suggestions that they would help Mr McCarthy keep power, advising their members to “vote yes” to oust the speaker.
“It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War,” Hakeem Jeffries, the top House Democrat, said in a letter to party colleagues.
The vote to remove Mr McCarthy has laid bare the deepening splits within the Republican Party, with the divides threatening to make Congress’s lower chamber ungovernable.
Mr McCarthy was elected speaker on the 15th round of voting in January. The House must select a new speaker before the chamber can carry out its legislative duties.
Tuesday’s vote came just days after hardline Republican House members took the government to the brink of shutdown in an attempt to cut federal spending, including aid for Ukraine’s war effort.
Mr Gaetz was among Republicans angered by Mr McCarthy’s deal with Democrats over the weekend. The deal led to a bipartisan vote to keep the government funded at current funding levels until mid-November, when many Republicans had pushed for budget cuts.
Mr McCarthy defended the deal, telling reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning: “Keeping government open, and paying our troops was the right decision. I stand by that decision. At the end of the day, if I have to lose my job over it, so be it.”
Mr McCarthy said Mr Gaetz was carrying out a personal vendetta stemming from a congressional ethics investigation into allegations that the Florida congressman engaged in sex trafficking. The Department of Justice ended its own investigation into Mr Gaetz earlier this year without charging him. Mr Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing.
“Matt Gaetz had planned to do this from the very beginning,” the speaker told CNBC before the House voted to dismiss him. “He has got personal things in his life that he has challenges with, that’s fine.”
– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023