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McCarthy will not run for speaker again after being removed

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters hours after he was ousted as speaker of the House on Tuesday.
J. Scott Applewhite
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters hours after he was ousted as speaker of the House on Tuesday.

Updated October 3, 2023 at 2:31 PM ET

The House is set to vote soon on a motion to remove House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from his job and his fate may lie in the hands of Democrats.

"If you throw a speaker out that has 99 percent of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we're in a really bad place," McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday morning.

By Tuesday afternoon, House members were testing that possibility as the prepared for an unprecedented vote on his leadership.

Democrats and Republicans huddled in corners and gathered in groups on the House floor ahead of the vote furiously trying to calculate whether or not McCarthy would survive the challenge. It would take a majority of the members present and voting to remove McCarthy, leaving both parties tabulating exactly how many members are present.

Counting members turned into an intense project as a group of McCarthy's critics sat in the back corner of the House floor with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the member who set the revolt in motion. Across the room, McCarthy's allies huddled with the speaker's floor staff looking at notes and their phones.

McCarthy admitted that he may not have enough Republican votes to remain speaker, but he says he isn't willing to offer any concessions to Democrats to help him say in power.

Democrats refuse to save McCarthy

That defiant tone helped unify Democrats against him, opting instead to let Republicans sort out their differences on their own.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-NY, said it is up to Republicans to "break with extremists."

"We are ready, willing and able to work together with our Republican colleagues but it is on them to join us to move the Congress and the country forward," Jeffries told reporters in the Capitol.

Jeffries also informed members that he and other party leaders will vote to remove McCarthy if and when a vote comes to the House floor.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., says it is up to Republicans to find a way out of their political differences.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc / Getty Images
Getty Images
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., says it is up to Republicans to find a way out of their political differences.

His comments followed a lengthy "open mic" meeting of House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol complex Tuesday. One by one lawmakers got up and had one minute to advise on what they thought the caucus should do and one by one Democrats railed on Speaker McCarthy's record and his unwillingness to reach across the aisle.

"I think Kevin McCarthy is among the most unprincipled, untrustworthy people I ever have encountered in the entirely of my life, and I think he does damage to this institution and our democracy," Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Democrats, told reporters.

She pointed out that McCarthy did a television interview on Tuesday saying he didn't need any help from Democrats so she didn't see any reason to help him survive.

Multiple Democrats told NPR neither the speaker, nor his allies, have approached Democratic leaders with any proposal to support him.

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said McCarthy's decision to change the rules on who can propose a resolution to remove the speaker, allowing just one member to do it, "essentially puts the fringe in charge of the House of Representatives in terms of rulemaking." Neal said he had a "Machivellian position" about that decision in January: "Once you seal the deal, you have to take the consequences."

Uncertainty ahead

The vote on a motion to vacate puts the House into unchartered waters. If the resolution does pass, the clerk of the House will refer to a list of people who can act as speaker pro tempore in the absence of speaker. That list is kept secret and will only be made public in the event that the speakership is vacant.

The House will then be forced to hold votes on a new speaker, though that could take time. Members will likely need to meet to discuss the path ahead. Members are already preparing for a fraught process. It took 15 rounds to elect McCarthy Speaker in January, in part because there was no consensus alternative.

There is no clear alternative who could win the 218 votes necessary to fill the job.

This story will be updated.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.

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