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CONGRESS CHAOS

Kevin McCarthy ousted as US House speaker by Republican dissidents in historic vote

Kevin McCarthy ousted as US House speaker by Republican dissidents in historic vote
Ousted US House speaker Kevin McCarthy (centre). (Photo: Ting Shen / Bloomberg)

The 216 to 210 vote raises fresh questions about dysfunction in Washington. Moody’s Investors Service, the only remaining major credit grader to give the US a top rating, warned in late September its confidence in the US was wavering because of concerns about ‘governance’.

Republican Kevin McCarthy was toppled on Tuesday as US House speaker by dissidents within his own party, ending his tumultuous nine months in the job and sending a fractious Congress into further disarray. 

The 58-year-old veteran California politician, who navigated treacherous political cross-currents to avert a US debt default earlier this year and a 1 October government shutdown, now becomes the first US House speaker removed from his job.

The 216 to 210 vote raises fresh questions about dysfunction in Washington. Moody’s Investors Service, the only remaining major credit grader to give the US a top rating, warned in late September its confidence in the US was wavering because of concerns about “governance”.

McCarthy’s fate was sealed by hardliners frustrated with his bipartisan dealmaking. Democrats, who vented grievances against McCarthy in a closed-door party meeting on Tuesday morning, refused to rescue him.

The last time the House even voted on removing a speaker was in 1910. In that case, the then speaker, Joseph Cannon, survived the test.

There’s no obvious successor to unify the fractious party, a vacuum that comes as the US approaches a 17 November deadline to keep the government open. A disruptive shutdown would send cascading effects across the US economy.

US aid to Ukraine, which has become a source of vitriol for GOP hardliners and was dropped from the short-term spending deal, hangs in the balance. So, too, do contentious battles over immigration and asylum policy, and support for the poor.

The House is likely to grind to a halt during the battle over the speaker’s gavel.

McCarthy, a determined political survivor who has said he won’t quit, could run again for the job immediately. But his first campaign for the speaker took an extraordinary 15 rounds and a second run at the speakership is unlikely to be any easier.

The resolution was brought to the House floor by conservative firebrand Matt Gaetz of Florida.

The vote unfolded in a rare formal roll call on the House floor, requiring each member to stand and declare their decision on whether McCarthy should be removed from his post. It was an echo of the same ritual McCarthy went through 15 times to be elected speaker in January.

Challenges ahead

McCarthy has bent himself in uncomfortable ways to satisfy the conflicting demands of House Republicans’ divergent factions ever since becoming speaker in January.

He overcame the doubts of many in Washington to strike the deal with President Joe Biden to avert a US default with his job intact, but that worsened his already-rocky relations with ultraconservatives.

Gaetz cited as the final straw McCarthy’s decision to allow a vote on Saturday on a last-minute bipartisan temporary funding plan that stopped a 1 October government shutdown.

In the end, McCarthy was unable to negotiate with Democrats or rebel Republicans to save his job.

“House Democrats remain willing to find common ground on an enlightened path forward,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to Democrats before the vote. “Unfortunately, our extreme Republican colleagues have shown no willingness to do the same.”

Gaetz and other Republicans have said they see a universe of other House Republicans — and Republicans outside Congress — who could win enough support to succeed McCarthy as House speaker.

Names that have been floated include the current second-ranking House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, whose candidacy would be complicated by medical treatment he is currently receiving for a rare blood cancer.

Other possibilities lawmakers have raised include the party’s third-ranking leader, Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota; Financial Service Committee Chairperson Patrick McHenry of North Carolina; and Rules Committee Chairperson Tom Cole of Oklahoma. DM

Gallery

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