Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

Vanderbilt's First and Only Nonpartisan Political Journal

Vanderbilt Political Review

The House Ousts McCarthy

Professor Leah Rosenstiel Weighs In

On October 3rd, Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was voted out of his position as Speaker of the House in an unprecedented move catalyzed by the most conservative members of his own party. These events represent the culmination of a growing divide in the Republican majority. 

Representative Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced a motion on October 2nd to remove McCarthy from the Speakership. This move came after consistent criticism from Gaetz and other hard-line Republicans on McCarthy’s handling of the Congressional budget, especially as McCarthy maneuvered to avoid a government shutdown in recent weeks. This group of Republicans argued that McCarthy relied too heavily on Democrats to pass a stopgap measure, which essentially maintained the same funding levels as the Democratic-majority Congress last year. 

Gaetz commented “Kevin McCarthy, at one point or another, has lied to all of us,” while McCarthy responded, saying “If he’s upset because he tried to push us into a shutdown and I made sure the government didn’t shut down, then let’s have that talk.” 

On October 3rd, debate between the two factions of Republicans ensued on the House floor over the Motion to Vacate the Chair of the Speaker. Democrats remained silent. In a 216 to 210 vote, all of the House Democrats joined a group of eight House Republicans in passing the Motion to Vacate, thus ending McCarthy’s leadership. 

McCarthy is the first Speaker of the House in Congressional history to ever be voted out of the position. He served one of the shortest terms ever recorded, 269 days, second to only Representative Michael Kerr, who died after 257 days in office in 1876. 

On October 4th, McCarthy announced that he would not seek re-election to the Speakership. There is no clear successor to McCarthy in the House Majority, and the House is out of session for the following week. Representative Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., will serve as a temporary replacement due to House rules. However, this is a mostly ceremonial position intended only to facilitate the election of the next Speaker; the House floor is functionally frozen until the new Speaker is elected. 

This is not the first record-breaking moment of McCarthy’s tenure as Speaker. In January, the Speakership had to be voted on 15 times over five days before McCarthy clinched enough votes from conservative hold-outs in his own party to claim the position. This was the longest a Speaker has taken to be appointed since the Civil War. 

Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and Congressional expert Leah Rosenstiel weighed in on the developments. She stated that beyond the historic passage of the Motion to Vacate, the dynamics within the House Republican party are also unique. 

Because of the Republican’s slim majority in the House, a small minority of the party has disproportionate power in the Chamber. Professor Rosenstiel stated that while this dynamic is not new, “What is somewhat new is the power that McCarthy ceded to this minority. For example, a single member of the House can bring a motion to vacate, which is how McCarthy was ultimately removed. This was a concession that McCarthy made to secure the speakership.”

In terms of the coming weeks, Rosenstiel stated “There is no precedent for what happens next.” She speculated that “It looks like House Republicans want to choose a new Speaker before doing anything else.” Furthermore, she added that Republicans may want to address the growing divide in their slim majority, and said “Maybe they will consider punishing Matt Gaetz and others for their role in removing Speaker McCarthy. This could take the form of removing these members from their committee assignments or not supporting them in their upcoming elections.”  

In the future, “Maybe [the House] will change House rules to make it harder to file a Motion to Vacate,” but for now, the nation watches and waits to see how this unprecedented lack of cohesion will play out. 

Image Credit: “Kevin McCarthy speaks on day 2 of the 2016 RNC” (unmodified) by Voice of America (2016).

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About the Contributor
Sarah "Bella" Roth, Editor-in-Chief
Sarah "Bella" Roth is a senior at Vanderbilt studying Public Policy and Political Science, and she is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Vanderbilt Political Review. She has lived in the UK, US, Germany, and Singapore. During her free time, she likes to run, watch movies, and try new restaurants in Nashville.