House Speaker Kevin McCarthy presiding over the chamber on May 11, 2023.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
The House voted to vacate the Office of the Speaker on Tuesday, booting Kevin McCarthy from his job.
Democrats joined a small number of Republicans to back Rep. Matt Gaetz’s motion to vacate.
It’s the first time in US history such a motion has succeeded. It’s unclear what happens next.
Kevin McCarthy just lost his job — for now.
For the first time in American history, the House of Representatives on Tuesday successfully moved to vacate the Office of the Speaker in a 216-210 vote. It came after Republicans failed to stop the effort roughly one hour earlier.
Every Democrat present joined eight Republicans in supporting the motion to vacate, a vote on which was forced by fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida.
The following 8 Republicans voted to oust McCarthy:
Rep. Andy Biggs of ArizonaRep. Ken Buck of ColoradoRep. Tim Burchett of TennesseeRep. Eli Crane of ArizonaRep. Matt Gaetz of FloridaRep. Bob Good of VirginiaRep. Nancy Mace of South CarolinaRep. Matt Rosendale of Montana
Lawmakers debated McCarthy’s fate for an hour before the vote, where Gaetz and fellow hard-right Republicans — sitting on the Democrats’ side of the chamber — argued against a rotating cast of McCarthy allies.
The House, under interim speaker Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, will now have to hold speaker elections once again, and it’s not clear where that will lead. McCarthy, who still has the vast majority of House Republicans behind him, has vowed to fight the effort and is likely to continue to seek the speakership, for now.
But there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Here’s how we got here, and what could happen next.
What’s a “motion to vacate?”
The “motion to vacate” is a resolution that declares the Office of the Speaker vacant. If it passes, the speaker is essentially fired, and new elections have to be held to choose another speaker.
Nothing prevents McCarthy from continuing to seek the office. Expect Democrats to support House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries for the job, as they did 15 straight times in January.
“I’m preparing to say the words ‘Hakeem Jeffries,’ as many times as I can,” Democratic Rep. Angie Craig of Minnesota told reporters earlier on Tuesday.
The motion to vacate hasn’t always been so easily available to lawmakers. When Democrats most recently controlled the House, the motion could only be offered if a majority of the party had already agreed to it.
Gaetz surrounded by reporters outside the Capitol on Monday.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
But when Republicans retook the chamber with a slim majority, McCarthy capitulated to a group of hardline Republicans’ demands that the measure be made available to any single member of the chamber.
Some Republicans have threatened to use it in the last few months, but this is the first time it’s actually happened.
But it’s not the first time the motion has ever been voted on. In 1910, House Speaker Joseph Cannon called the motion himself as he faced a mutiny from his own party, daring his own members to oust him. The effort failed.
More recently, Republicans have threatened using the motion against Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1998 and John Boehner in 2015. Both men eventually resigned without the vote taking place.
Why did Gaetz file the motion to vacate?
Gaetz has been dissatisfied by McCarthy’s leadership for months now, arguing that he has not governed the chamber in a manner consistent with an agreement that he made with hard-right House Republicans in January.
During the floor debate ahead of the vote to vacate on Tuesday, Gaetz described the debt limit deal that McCarthy struck with President Joe Biden in May as the “original sin” of his speakership.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back was Saturday’s vote to avert a government shutdown, which funded the government for the next several weeks without including a bevy of conservative priorities, including spending cuts and money for border security.
The House had taken a vote on such a measure on Friday, but it failed due to the opposition of several hard-right Republicans, including Gaetz. The Saturday measure, while supported by most House Republicans, ultimately passed with more Democratic than Republican votes.
The Florida Republican has also accused McCarthy of striking a backroom deal with Democrats to approve more aid to Ukraine, though McCarthy denies this. Gaetz and dozens of other House Republicans — potentially more than half — oppose sending more aid to the besieged country.
There’s also been speculation about Gaetz’s true motives, as he is rumored to be considering a run for governor of Florida in 2026 and is said to have bad blood with McCarthy over a House Ethics Committee investigation into potential sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.
Why did Democrats support the effort?
Believe it or not, it wasn’t a sure thing that Democrats would support Gaetz’s effort.
House Democrats don’t particularly like Gaetz, and voting to table the motion to vacate arguably would have been a vote to avert an extended period of chaos in the House that won’t necessarily benefit them politically. Aside from a small group of staunch progressives, it’s possible that rank-and-file Democrats could’ve taken a different approach.
But Democrats say McCarthy hasn’t reached out to them at all for help, and they’re furious with him for dismissing their role in governance, particularly in light of their support for McCarthy’s government funding bill on Saturday.
Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, who represents the party’s most politically vulnerable members, ripped McCarthy and suggested that Democrats — even those in Republican-leaning districts — have little incentive to help him out.
“I am only speaking for myself, but I will say that in hard districts, we take votes of principle and then have to justify them to unhappy constituents,” Spanberger told Insider. “McCarthy has never demonstrated principles ever.”
Who’s going to become speaker now?
The House will now be thrown back into rounds of votes to determine the new speaker, and it’s not clear who will emerge victorious.
We could potentially see a repeat of the first week of January, when McCarthy was able to claim the gavel after 15 successive votes over the course of 4 days. McCarthy maintains, for now, the backing of over 200 House Republicans.
But he’d likely have to make even more concessions to win over hardliners like Gaetz, and even then, it’s not clear that they can be won over at all. Alternatively, enough of the hardliners could change their mind, voting to reinstate McCarthy with the knowledge that he now understands how vulnerable he is.
If McCarthy were to bow out, a number of Republicans have been floated as potential replacements, including current Whip Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Rep. Jodey Arrington of Texas, and Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
On Tuesday, one hardliner, Rep. Andy Ogles of Tennessee, even polled his Twitter followers on the question.
Democrats do not have enough votes to name a speaker on their own, some have floated the idea that a small number of Republicans could cross the aisle to support a compromise Democratic speaker — or vice versa.
As of now, there’s little indication that will happen.