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Speaker Kevin McCarthy ousted by US House Republicans in historic vote

The House looks set to go leaderless for at least a week, as multiple Republicans say they plan to meet on Oct 10 to discuss possible successors.

Reuters
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US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy walks back to the speaker's office after a motion to vacate the chair passed by a vote of 216-210, at the US Capitol in Washington, Oct 3. Photo: Reuters
US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy walks back to the speaker's office after a motion to vacate the chair passed by a vote of 216-210, at the US Capitol in Washington, Oct 3. Photo: Reuters

A handful of Republicans in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday ousted Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy, as party infighting plunged Congress into further chaos just days after it narrowly averted a government shutdown.

The 216-to-210 vote marked the first time in history that the House removed its leader, with eight Republicans voting with 208 Democrats to remove McCarthy. McCarthy told reporters he would not make another run for speaker.

"I fought for what I believe in," McCarthy said. "I believe I can continue to fight, but maybe in a different manner."

The House looked set to go leaderless for at least a week, as multiple Republicans said they planned to meet on Oct 10 to discuss possible McCarthy successors, with a vote on a new speaker planned for Oct 11.

Tuesday's rebellion was led by representative Matt Gaetz, a far-right Republican from Florida and McCarthy antagonist who finally turned on the speaker after he on Saturday relied on Democratic votes to help pass a bill to avoid a partial government shutdown.

"Kevin McCarthy is a creature of the swamp. He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favours. We are breaking the fever now," Gaetz told reporters after the vote.

It was the latest moment of high drama in a year when the Republican-controlled House brought Washington to the brink of a catastrophic default on US debt of US$31.4 trillion (RM148.57 trillion) and a partial government shutdown.

Republicans control the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, meaning they can afford to lose no more than five votes if Democrats unite in opposition.

McCarthy's ouster as speaker brings legislative activity in the House to a halt, with another government shutdown deadline looming Nov 17 if Congress does not extend funding.

The White House said it hoped the House would move swiftly to choose a replacement speaker, a position second in line to the presidency after the vice-president.

Uncharted waters

The vote left Congress in uncharted waters as it scrambles to update farm-subsidy and nutrition programs, pass government funding bills and consider further aid to Ukraine.

It was unclear who would succeed McCarthy.

McCarthy had repeatedly angered Democrats in recent weeks, including by launching an impeachment inquiry into Biden and on Saturday by giving them little time to read a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown that he needed their votes to pass.

Democrats could have saved McCarthy but, after considering it, said they would not help Republicans resolve their own problems.

Other Republican leaders like Steve Scalise and Tom Emmer could possibly be candidates, though neither has publicly expressed interest. Representative Patrick McHenry was named to the post on a temporary basis.

The last two Republican speakers, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, retired from Congress after clashes with their right wing.

In debate on the House floor, Gaetz and a handful of allies criticised McCarthy for relying on Democratic votes to pass temporary funding that headed off a partial government shutdown.

"We need a speaker who will fight for something – anything – other than staying on as speaker," said Republican representative Bob Good.

Representative Nancy Mace told reporters she voted to remove McCarthy as speaker because he broke promises to her on improving access to birth control and supporting a bill she wrote on rape kits.

"I've made deals with Kevin McCarthy, with the speaker, that he has not kept to help women in this country," Mace said. "We have done nothing for them."

McCarthy's supporters, including some of the chamber's most vocal conservatives, said McCarthy had successfully limited spending and advanced other conservative priorities even though Democrats control the White House and the Senate.

"Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos, because that's where we're headed," said Republican Representative Tom Cole.

No Democratic support

Democrats said they viewed McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke a May agreement on spending with Biden.

"Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence," representative Pramila Jayapal told reporters before the vote.

Gaetz was one of more than a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy's bid for speaker in January. McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting over four days. To win the job, McCarthy agreed to rules that made it easier to challenge his leadership.

McCarthy supporters have said Gaetz was motivated by a hunger for publicity, a chance to win higher office or resentment over an ongoing ethics probe into possible sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.

Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he is not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.

"This isn't a critique of the individual – it's a critique of the job. The job hasn't been done," he said.

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