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Biden Condemns “Poisonous Atmosphere” in Congress Following McCarthy’s Ouster

Kevin McCarthy lost his speakership position earlier this week by a vote of 216 to 210 favoring a motion to vacate.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on new Administration efforts to cancel student debt and support borrowers at the White House on October 4, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

In public statements on Wednesday, the Biden administration said it is not celebratory of Kevin McCarthy’s ouster from his role as speaker of the House, but rather concerned that the situation will make it difficult for Congress to respond to crises facing the country.

McCarthy lost his position after a “motion to vacate” was issued by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who was upset with the former speaker over his refusal to use the possibility of a government shutdown to force negotiations on cutting social programs and enacting harsh anti-immigration policies. Democrats also voted against McCarthy, citing his anti-democracy actions, including his criticisms of the January 6 commission.

The final vote, which happened on Tuesday afternoon, was 216 to 210 in favor of removing McCarthy from the speakership role.

“Nobody’s loving anything when we’re not able to deliver for the American people,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during the White House press briefing the day after the House removed McCarthy from his post. “Nobody’s loving that. It is important for Congress to work, not for us, but on behalf of the American people.”

Within that same briefing, Jean-Pierre said it was imperative that congressional lawmakers select a new speaker — and fast.

“Because the urgent challenges facing our nation will not wait, [President Joe Biden] hopes the House will quickly elect a Speaker,” she said.

Biden himself spoke to reporters at the White House about the situation, acknowledging that it may “take some time” for the House (and specifically the Republican conference) to agree on who should lead beyond the very brief McCarthy era. Biden also recognized that McCarthy’s ouster was a symptom of a larger problem in the legislative chamber.

“More than anything, we need to change the poisonous atmosphere in Washington,” Biden said, urging bipartisanship within Congress. “You know, we have strong disagreements, but we need to stop seeing each other as enemies. We need to talk to one another, listen to one another, work with one another. And we can do that.”

It’s anyone’s guess who the next speaker will be, as Republicans are set to have what will likely be a contentious battle within their ranks over who should lead them. The most probable choices, however, aren’t likely to seek the kind of unity that Biden has publicly called for.

Although a few names have been tossed around as possibilities (including former President Donald Trump), the choices will likely come down to two figures — Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), the current House Majority Leader, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Both men have officially announced that they are seeking the job of speaker.

Commentators on social media bemoaned the two far right options.

“So Kevin McCarthy will be replaced by a gun-loving white supremacist & self-styled Ku Klux Klansman, Steve Scalise, or sex crimes enabler Jim Jordan who failed the bar exam,” said political strategist Lindy Li. “Welcome to the Clown Jewels of the GOP.”

“When your top three choices to lead your party are Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, and Steve Scalise — who is evidently ‘David Duke without the baggage’ (um…what?) — it’s time to burn what’s left of your party to the ground and salt the earth,” said pro-democracy writer Andrew Wortman.

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