The word “unprecedented” is oft overused – and mistakenly so – in political journalism; as Ecclesiastes reminds us, “there is no new thing under the sun.” However, in the case of Tuesday’s (Oct. 3) successful vote to remove Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), unprecedented is an applicable adjective for a number of reasons. The 216 to 210 Motion to Vacate – a united front of Democrats joining eight GOP rebels – was indeed historic, and yet its import may well become a political Rorschach test, with each faction using the moment to bolster their own particular brand of ideology.
While the historical footnotes will be written by the victors of the future, it’s worth noting the individual perspectives of the players in this momentous saga.
McCarthy Not Bowed
Although the final tally will have come as a surprise to the now-former Speaker, he was collected and calm as he spoke for almost an hour with reporters in the aftermath. In a wide-ranging ad hoc Q and A, McCarthy seemed almost relieved not to have the House rules he agreed to back in January hanging over his head any longer. As Liberty Nation wrote during his initial quest to attain the speakership in Jan. 2023, “He endured 15 rounds of voting to secure the spot and made concessions that contained the potential seeds of his own end. And like Damocles, the fruits and rewards of his new status may leave a very bitter taste.”
A certain amount of ire was reserved for Republican lawmaker Matt Gaetz (FL) who was the mastermind behind this ousting. McCarthy said of him and his seven colleagues:
“They don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry and they’re chaotic. That’s not the party … They are not conservatives, and they do not have the right to have the title.”
But fellow GOPers were not the only ones whom McCarthy blamed. He said of House Democrats that “They played so many politics.” Further, he detailed a story about former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) saying that she would support him if his party tried to remove him. Pelosi herself was not in the chamber when the vote came down, but it is likely that McCarthy assumed she still held some influence over her colleagues.
McCarthy is well-known for his fundraising skills within the party, and although he will not run for the Speaker’s gavel again, he is certain to remain a powerful figure.
Gaetz Not So Thrilled With Success?
One might assume that leading a longshot charge and winning would provide some jubilation to Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, who introduced the motion to Vacate the Chair. And yet, in interviews following the vote, he did not appear relieved, but rather agitated. Speaking with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, he argued that the House should get on with electing a new Speaker and that the “yellow brick road of working with Democrats was paved by Kevin McCarthy.”
Prior to the vote, he laid out his case on the steps of the Capitol:
“I don’t feel pressure from conservatives or Democrats. I feel the judgment of history. I worry that when the history books are written about this country going down, that my name is going to be on the Board of Directors here.
“If this country is going down, I am going down fighting. I don’t care if that means fighting Republicans, Democrats, the uniparty, House leadership, the PACs, or the lobbyists. I’ve had it.”
The Republican Caucus
North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry (R) has assumed the role of House Speaker pro tempore and will oversee the election of a new leader. He was appointed to this temporary position due to a little-known rule that allows the Speaker to provide a list of “alternates” to step in if needed; McHenry was top of that list. Two of his first official acts in the interim spot were to tell Pelosi to vacate her plush offices, and to send lawmakers home for a week.
All but eight Republicans in the lower chamber voted to keep McCarthy in situ, and with only a 45-day stopgap measure in place to fund the government, they will likely be feeling both the pressure to get things moving, and more than a little animus towards the man who derailed their favored Speaker. However, a dip beneath the surface might offer a fresher perspective.
The Motion to Vacate was brought by Gaetz in response to the 45-day stopgap measure that passed in the House on September 29. Gaetz argued that this was carried thanks to Democrats, whom the measure benefited – a suggestion bolstered by the fact that 91 Republicans voted against it, and seven did not vote. All but three Democrats voted for it. With almost half of the GOP caucus tacitly taking Gaetz’s position, a different style of leadership might be more welcome than initial reports suggest.
The most prominent name being floated for replacement Speaker is House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a man widely respected by much of his party, and, most importantly, also a leader who is considered acceptable by the eight Republicans who voted to ditch McCarthy. When it comes to voting for a new House Speaker, it is possible that Scalise could win in the first round, likely unburdened by the promises the former chair was forced to make.
Notably, one more name has been prominently floated as a possible replacement. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) posted on her social media account that “The only candidate for Speaker I am currently supporting is President Donald J. Trump.” While the former president is seeking to become the next president, there is nothing that could constitutionally prevent him from being elected a Speaker of the House – the position does not need to be filled from just the member pool and can be anyone the body elects with a majority.
The Democrat Caucus
Before the vote happened, Minority Whip Katherine Clark (D-MA) released a memo in which she “urged” members to vote “yes” on vacating McCarthy’s position. And why wouldn’t she? From the Dem perspective, anything they can present to the public showing the opposition to be in chaos – and therefore unfit to lead – distracts from the very serious problems with their own party leadership.
There was a chance that some Democrats would vote to save McCarthy; he was, after all, on friendly terms with many of them. However, in a Face the Nation interview early Tuesday, the former Speaker spurned potential allies in a move he perhaps came to regret. He first blamed Democrats for almost sinking the 45-day funding continuance (when, in fact, only half of his own party voted for it), and then said that he would not make any major concessions to the opposition.
While some long-standing colleagues across the aisle may have been willing to remain neutral, McCarthy’s attitude almost certainly pushed them in a more hostile direction. As Dem Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania said on Fox, he was inclined to vote “present,” but “after I saw Kevin McCarthy’s interview with Margaret Brennan, all magnanimity left my body.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (NY) has a somewhat unique take on the situation. In a post on X (née Twitter) following the vote, he posted this:
“House Democrats will continue to put people over politics and work together in a bipartisan way to make life better for everyday Americans.
“It is our hope that traditional Republicans will walk away from MAGA extremism and join us in partnership for the good of the country.”
For the eagle-eyed observer, there may just be a handful of salient questions. Who are the MAGA extremists he refers to, and are they the same people he only a moment ago rallied his party to vote alongside? Also, didn’t he just have an opportunity to join the “traditional Republicans” in “partnership” – and instead opt to side with those very people he – in the same sentence – denounced as guilty of “MAGA extremism”?
A Matter of Perspective
Ultimately, the only perspective that really matters is that of the American public. There is a growing wave of dissatisfaction across the country – with both parties – and there will be as many people cheering the ousting of Kevin McCarthy as lamenting it.
Conservative news host Lauren Chen perhaps summed up the base reality of the situation when she posted on X: “Are you happy now, Gaetz? Now you’ll have Democrats in charge who fail to secure the border, who funnel money to Ukraine, throw Trump under the bus, and fail to hold Biden accountable for his corruption, instead of Kevin McCarthy who also does all of those exact same things.”
Historic and unprecedented the removal of the House Speaker may be, but there are very few moments that have ever truly heralded a sea change in politics. For the parties involved, there will be hopes and prayers that this is not one of them – and perhaps just as many that it is.