WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker Kevin McCarthy was voted out of the job Tuesday in an extraordinary showdown, a first in U.S. history, The 216-210 vote, forced by a contingent of hard-right conservatives, throws the House and its Republican leadership into chaos.
McCarthy’s chief rival, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, brought forward the “motion to vacate” drawing together more than a handful of conservative Republican critics of the speaker and many Democrats who say he is unworthy of leadership.
Next steps are uncertain, but there is no obvious successor to lead the House Republican majority.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s grip on the gavel was at serious risk Tuesday after the House voted to move ahead with a historic effort by hard-right critics to oust the embattled Republican leader from the job.
The dramatic showdown forced by McCarthy’s chief rival, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, brought together more than a handful of conservative Republican critics of the speaker and many Democrats who say he is unworthy of leadership.
Voting was underway in a dramatic roll call. It will take just a simple majority to remove McCarthy from the speaker’s office. While he has support from most Republicans, a handful of conservatives can overpower McCarthy’s slim majority if Democrats don’t step in to help.
It’s a stunning moment for the battle-tested McCarthy and serves as his most severe challenge yet, a potential punishment fueled by growing grievances but sparked by his weekend decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown.
An earlier vote was 218-208 against tabling the motion, with 11 Republicans allowing it to advance.
The House then opened an extraordinary floor debate, unseen in modern times, ahead of the next round of voting on what could be an motion to “vacate the chair” — something that has not happened in Congress in a century.
McCarthy, of California, insists he will not cut a deal with Democrats to remain in power — not that he could rely on their help even if he had asked.
Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to colleagues that he wants to work with Republicans, but he was unwilling to provide the votes needed to save McCarthy.
“It is now the responsibility of the GOP members to end the House Republican Civil War,” Jeffries said, announcing the Democratic leadership would vote for the motion to oust the speaker.
As the House fell silent, Gaetz, a top ally of Donald Trump, rose to offer his motion. Gaetz is a leader of the hard-right Republicans who fought in January against McCarthy in his prolonged battle to gain the gavel.
“It’s a sad day,” Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said as debate got underway, urging his colleagues not to plunge the House Republican majority “into chaos.”
But Gaetz shot back during the debate, “Chaos is Speaker McCarthy.”
McCarthy’s fate was deeply uncertain as the fiery debate unfolded, with much of the complaints against the speaker revolving around his truthfulness and his ability to keep the promises he has made since January to win the gavel.
But a long line of McCarthy supporters, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a founding leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, stood up for him: “I think he has kept his word.” And some did so passionately, Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., waving his cell phone saying it was “disgusting” that hard-right colleagues were fundraising off the move in text messages seeking donations.
It would take the support of only a handful of Republicans from his slim majority to remove McCarthy as speaker if Democrats vote in favor alongside the conservative rebels.
At the Capitol, both Republicans and Democrats met privately ahead of what would be a historic afternoon vote.
Behind closed doors, McCarthy told fellow Republicans: Let’s get on with it.
“If I counted how many times someone wanted to knock me out, I would have been gone a long time ago,” McCarthy said at the Capitol after the morning meeting.
McCarthy insisted he had not reached across the aisle to the Democratic leader Jeffries for help with votes to stay in the job, nor had they demanded anything in return.
During the hour-long meeting in the Capitol basement, McCarthy invoked the last Republican speaker, Joseph Cannon, who more than 100 years ago confronted his critics head on by calling their bluff and setting the vote himself on his ouster. Cannon survived that take-down attempt which, until now, was the first time the House had actually voted to consider removing its speaker. A more recent threat, in 2015, didn’t make it to a vote.
McCarthy received three standing ovations during the private meeting — one when he came to the microphone to speak, again during his remarks and lastly when he was done, according a Republican at the meeting and granted anonymity to discuss it.
At one point, there was a show of hands in support of McCarthy and it was “overwhelming,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Gaetz was in attendance, but he did not address the room.
Across the way in the Capitol, Democrats lined up for a long discussion and unified around one common point: McCarthy cannot be trusted, several lawmakers in the room said.
“I think it’s safe to say there’s not a lot of good will in that room for Kevin McCarthy,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass.
“At the end of the day, the country needs a speaker that can be relied upon,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. “We don’t trust him. Their members don’t trust him. And you need a certain degree of trust to be the speaker.”
Removing the speaker would launch the House Republicans into chaos, as they try to find a new leader. It took McCarthy himself 15 rounds in January over multiple days of voting before he secured the support from his colleagues to gain the gavel. There is no obvious GOP successor.
Trump, the former president who is the Republican front-runner in the 2024 race to challenge Biden, weighed in to complain about the chaos. “Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves,” he asked on social media.
One key McCarthy ally, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has taken to social media urging support for “our speaker” and an end to the chaos that has roiled the Republican majority.
Republicans are upset that McCarthy relied on Democratic votes Saturday to approve the temporary measure to keep the government running until Nov. 17. Some would have preferred a government shutdown as they fight for deeper spending cuts.
But Democrats are also upset at McCarthy for walking away from the debt deal that he made with Biden earlier this year that already set federal spending levels as he emboldens his right-flank to push for steep spending reductions.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Stephen Groves and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.