Kevin McCarthy’s Ironic Downfall

Rep. Kevin McCarthy holds a press conference after being ousted as speaker of the House on October 3, 2023. (Photo by Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday! Before Mike gets back from vacation, we’re taking quick action to nominate him as the next speaker of the House.

Up to Speed

  • California Republican Kevin McCarthy was deposed as House speaker Tuesday afternoon in a 216-210 vote, with eight Republicans crossing the aisle to vote alongside every Democrat. It was the first time in U.S. history a speaker has been booted through a “motion to vacate” vote. Despite initial comments from scattered House Democrats suggesting they might help McCarthy protect the gavel, Democrats decided Tuesday morning they would vote unanimously to remove him, citing his lack of principle and repeated concessions to his party’s hard-right flank. Although many Republicans vowed to continue supporting him, the former speaker said Tuesday night he would not stand again for the job.
  • In the wake of the vote, Republican leadership retaliated against Democrats’ support for the measure with several small symbolic moves, evicting several former Democratic leaders, including Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, from their Capitol hideaway offices just off the House floor. The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus seems to be on life support: Republican members, enraged at their Democratic colleagues’ unwillingness to bail McCarthy out, are reportedly threatening to leave the group en masse.
  • Gov. Glenn Youngkin raised $7.45 million in the third quarter for his effort to lead a Republican takeover of the Virginia General Assembly in next month’s legislative elections, his political team tells The Dispatch. The GOP is defending a thin majority in the state House of Representatives and needs to flip four Democratic-held seats to capture the Virginia Senate. “Gov. Youngkin is all in on making Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family,” his adviser, Dave Rexrode, says in a statement. Youngkin has been raising the money from wealthy GOP donors who hope a strong showing in the Old Dominion’s off-year elections will encourage the governor to mount a late bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
  • Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat giving up her House seat to run for Senate in Michigan, raised $3 million in the third quarter and has grown her war chest to $5 million, The Messenger reports. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the incumbent Democrat, is retiring in 2024. The Republican primary is expected to be spirited.
  • No Labels, the well-funded nonpartisan group making tentative plans to field a third-party unity presidential ticket, is asking the Democratic Party to stop working against its effort to get on the ballot in states that allow for it, the Associated Press reports. “We urge you to tell your state and national leadership that you will not participate in actions that threaten the very principles of liberty and freedom that are the bedrock of our democracy,” No Labels writes in an open letter to thousands of Democratic state and county leaders across the country.
  • With inflation vexing voters and polls showing Republicans hold their biggest advantage over Democrats on the economy in a generation, President Joe Biden’s campaign is out with a new television advertisement touting legislation he signed to lower the price of insulin for seniors and “investing in American-made clean energy to lower power costs for families.” The spot is running in Phoenix, the main media market in the key battleground state of Arizona.

McCarthy Out

In the end, Kevin McCarthy met his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.

To become speaker of a razor-thin and fractious Republican House majority, McCarthy—always more of an institutionalist and relationships guy than an ideological firebrand—made himself a supplicant to his party’s hard-right flank. He sacrificed much of the institutional power of the office to meet the demands of the House Freedom Caucus and gave its members an outsize presence on congressional committees. After initially denouncing the Capitol riot on January 6, he famously traveled to Mar-a-Lago to mend fences with Donald Trump. And he regularly bowed to the wishes of conference malcontents on House strategy—most notably by opening an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden last month.

It wasn’t enough. The “motion to vacate” mechanism McCarthy had resurrected in his bid to win Freedom Caucus support was the mechanism Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida used to remove him. Trump stood by silently until the defenestration was complete. And Democrats cited McCarthy’s repeated concessions to his party’s wooliest members as part of their rationale for declining to protect him from Gaetz’s revolt.   

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