Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican member of the House of Representatives who served as speaker of the House from the start of the year until he was removed from the position in early October, has announced that he will not seek reelection and will depart from Congress entirely at the end of December.
“I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways. I know my work is only getting started,” McCarthy said in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, announcing his decision to leave his post.
McCarthy, who served as a representative for 16 years, became speaker in January 2023 after several years of serving as House Republican Leader. It took a painstaking 15 rounds of voting for him to win the gavel, due to GOP infighting and a coalition of Freedom Caucus lawmakers who opposed his appointment to the role.
McCarthy’s attempts to appease that group’s members ultimately led to his undoing, particularly his agreement to change a provision in the rules of the House to allow just one member to call for a “motion to vacate” vote. When Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), who has butted heads with McCarthy several times in the past year, called for such a vote, eight Republicans and the entire Democratic conference voted for McCarthy’s ouster.
McCarthy is the only speaker of the House to be removed by such a vote in U.S. history.
McCarthy is the latest in a line of dozens of lawmakers in Congress who have announced they either won’t fulfill their term in the House or won’t seek reelection next year. His departure means that the already narrow GOP majority will shrink even more — with McCarthy’s departure, Rep. George Santos’s (R-New York) expulsion, and another GOP lawmaker, Bill Johnson of Ohio, announcing he’s leaving his office next year to become head of a university, Republicans will only have a three-seat majority over Democrats, at least until those vacancies are filled. If Santos’s seat is won by a Democrat, that majority will shrink to just two seats.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-California) will have to announce the date of a special election within the next two weeks. That election will be required to take place within 126 to 140 days after that announcement, per state law.
If not for Donald Trump’s presidency, McCarthy’s legacy could have been much different, placing him among similar conservative stalwarts with dangerous far right views. Instead, McCarthy will be remembered not only as the first speaker to be removed from his office by their peers, but also for being a committed stooge for Trump who frequently used his position to defend the former president, particularly after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
McCarthy reportedly berated Trump as the attack was happening, blaming him for the event; weeks later, however, he met with Trump in his Florida-based Mar-a-Lago estate to smooth things over and discuss political strategy for Republicans moving forward.
It quickly became clear that McCarthy would remain a lackey for the former president, both as the minority leader in Congress and during his short stint as speaker.
McCarthy, for example, derailed the original bipartisan plan to investigate the Capitol attack by placing Trump-allied Republicans on a proposed committee to delve into that day’s events. He also reportedly promised Trump that he would offer a measure in the House to expunge his two impeachments, despite the fact that such a move would be illegal. McCarthy also started an impeachment inquiry of his own, baselessly targeting Trump’s main opponent in the 2024 election, President Joe Biden, over allegations that he secured business deals for his son, Hunter Biden, as vice president.
McCarthy’s soon-to-be-vacated seat will likely remain Republican once a special election takes place. However, because California law requires such a race to happen more than four months after a vacancy occurs, at the earliest, the GOP’s majority control in the House will remain tenuous in the coming months.
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