Kevin McCarthy has been ousted as House Speaker in a historic vote, with the GOP now in uncharted territory with regards to selecting the California congressman’s replacement.
The House of Representatives voted 216-210 on Tuesday night supporting a motion to vacate brought forward by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz to remove McCarthy from the role, with eight Republicans joining 208 Democrat lawmakers in backing the motion.
The vote, the first time in U.S. history that the House has removed its own speaker, now means the GOP-controlled lower chamber must try to elect a House Speaker during a congressional term while at the same time trying to heal party infighting and agree upon a candidate who would receive enough votes.
However, currently there is no clear GOP member of Congress who could come forward for the party to get behind, with some Republican lawmakers already suggesting that they will be supporting former President Donald Trump. Whether Trump, who is running for president in 2024, will be able to get the 218 House nods needed to actually be elected or just a handful of stunt votes, remains to be seen.
“McCarthy’s bruising, 15-round battle for the speakership may look like a cakewalk compared to what’s in store for the House in the coming days and weeks. With no obvious replacement, Capitol Hill is bracing itself for all out-chaos,” Thomas Gift, founding director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at University College London, told Newsweek.
“Democrats, and far-right Republican rebels, may be reveling in what they’ve just achieved by ousting McCarthy. But it’s not at all clear how, or when, this story ends. In the meantime, buckle up. This ride is going to be a doozy.”
As noted by The Washington Examiner reporter and political commentator Byron York, Gaetz’s plan to oust McCarthy without having a set-in-stone replacement lined up means the Florida congressman “pulled off what is probably the greatest dog-that-caught-the-car moment in American political history.”
“Now comes the time when the dog has to concede he has no idea what to do next,” York posted on X, formerly Twitter.
McCarthy’s election to House Speaker in January was chaotic and a sign of GOP rebellion that would follow him for the entirety of his short-lived role. McCarthy needed 15 rounds of voting before he was finally elected as a number of hardline and MAGA Republicans, including Gaetz, refused to vote for him. The California Republican only got enough votes after six Republicans withheld their ballot, therefore lowering the threshold to 216.
McCarthy has already ruled out putting himself forward as a candidate for House Speaker again. While a number of House Republicans have been cited as potential candidates—such as Ohio’s Jim Jordan and Florida’s Bryon Donalds—there is no overwhelming consensus to suggest that one Republican has enough support.
Due to the GOP’s razor-thin 221-212 majority in the House, any candidate would need the backing of almost every GOP lawmaker in order to gain the 218 full House votes needed, presuming they do not receive any backing from the Democrats.
One far-fetched possibility is that House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries could replace McCarthy as the lower chamber’s speaker.
While the Democrats are virtually certain to unanimously back the New York congressman for the role, Jeffries would still need the highly unlikely backing of several House Republicans to achieve the majority support needed.
Bill Kristol, a conservative political commentator and former chief of staff to former Republican vice president Dan Quayle, still suggested that there is still a slight chance that Jeffries could become the next House Speaker if “a few sane House Republicans” who don’t want to be in a party led by Trump “join forces with the Dems and make Jeffries speaker—while retaining the option of voting against Dem legislation or rules with which they disagree.”
Three GOP lawmakers—Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Texas’ Troy Nehls and Florida’s Greg Steube—have indicated that they would vote for Trump as the next House Speaker.
“And I have been told that President Trump might be open to helping the Republican Party, at least in the short term, if necessary,” Hannity said.
There is nothing in the Constitution that says the House must choose a member of Congress for the speaker role, meaning it is theoretically possible for Trump to get elected.
However, the House has historically chosen one of their own for the role, meaning having Trump as House Speaker would be another historically unprecedented move. Trump has also previously stated in March 2022 that becoming House Speaker is “not something I would be interested in.”
Another possible scenario is that North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, named by McCarthy as the lawmaker who would become the temporary leader of the lower chamber should the position become vacant, could remain in the role for the foreseeable future.
As noted by Josh Huder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, the constitution states that the speaker pro tem “could stay in the chair” once he has taken the position.
“There’s no forcing mechanism for a new election, nor are there any overt restrictions on the power the pro tem would wield,” Huder posted on X. “The support of the conference would dictate the durability of this.”
There is also a possibility that McHenry could put his name down as a potential full-time replacement and seek the support of the party for the House Speaker position.
In another sign of the chaos surrounding the GOP, Gaetz, who has ruled himself out of the running for the House Speaker role, may even face expulsion from the House pending the findings of an ethics committee report into allegations of sex trafficking, bribery and drug use against the congressman.
It was previously reported that House Republicans will launch a motion to remove Gaetz from office if the report, which has been investigating Gaetz since 2021, reveals findings of guilt as members of the party became irate by his attempts to remove McCarthy as House Speaker.
“No one can stand him at this point. A smart guy without morals,” one Republican House member told Fox News.