Kevin McCarthy says he won’t run again for House speaker

WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Tuesday night that he won’t attempt to reclaim his post as House speaker, hours after he was ousted in a historic vote.

“I will not run for speaker again. I’ll have the [Republican] conference pick somebody else,” McCarthy said in remarks to the press following a closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers.

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McCarthy initially informed Republican colleagues about his decision during the meeting, multiple lawmakers said as they left the gathering. The California Republican served as House speaker for the last nine months after a chaotic effort within the GOP conference in January to elect him.

When asked Tuesday night by a reporter if he plans to remain a member of Congress, McCarthy said, “I’ll look at that.”

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters after he was voted out of the job of Speaker of the House by a contingent of hard-right conservatives in an extraordinary showdown, a first in U.S. history, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

Tuesday’s announcement came after the House adopted a motion to remove him as speaker. That vote was forced by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a conservative critic who made certain demands of the California Republican ahead of the deadline over the weekend to prevent a government shutdown.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., became the acting House speaker after the vote and is expected to hold the gavel at least temporarily. House Republicans are expected to huddle about possible speaker candidates at a forum next Tuesday and plan to hold an election for House speaker the following day.

Gaetz had filed a resolution on Monday that would trigger a floor vote on removing McCarthy as speaker, arguing that McCarthy had not complied with the terms the Florida Republican had insisted upon during negotiations over government funding.

McCarthy became speaker in January after he was elected on the 15th ballot — the fifth-longest speaker vote by number of ballots in U.S. history, and the longest such vote in 164 years.

Amid the intraparty drama, one of the conditions that McCarthy had agreed to at the time as he tried to assuage conservatives was allowing the reinstatement of a rule that would permit a single lawmaker to force a vote to oust a sitting speaker in the middle of a congressional session.

Before the House vote to oust him on Tuesday, McCarthy was defiant and said he would fight efforts to strip him of the speaker’s gavel.

“I think Matt has planned this all along,” McCarthy told reporters. “It didn’t matter what…transpired. You know, he would have done it if it were in shutdown or not. I firmly believe it’s the right decision to keep government open to make sure our military is still paid or border agents are still paid. If that makes a challenge based upon whether I should be speaker I’ll take that fight.”

Democrats, meanwhile, decided that they would not take action to save McCarthy. They voted with conservatives in favor of the motion to vacate the speakership, removing McCarthy from his post.

Earlier in the day, McCarthy said he had spoken to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., about the situation.

McCarthy said he told Jeffries, “You guys do whatever you need to do. I get politics. I understand where people are. I truly believe though in the institution of the House. At the end of the day, if you throw a speaker out that has 99% of their conference, that kept government open and paid the troops, I think we’re in a really bad place for how we’re gonna run Congress.”

McCarthy had served as the leader of House Republicans since January 2019 after Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who had served as House speaker, decided not to run for re-election to Congress. Democrats won control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., became speaker in 2019.

Even before this year’s drama, McCarthy was considered at one point for the speakership, but dropped out of the race in 2015 after the decision by then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to resign from Congress. McCarthy had made a public gaffe, admitting that the House investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attack was intended to hurt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Ryan then entered the race and was elected speaker.

McCarthy has served as a member of the House since 2007.

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