June 16, 2024 5:09 am

Kevin McCarthy has gone. Why was he removed and who might replace him?

A search is under way for a Speaker of the House of Representatives after Republican Kevin McCarthy was unexpectedly pushed out by a right-wing revolt in his own party.

The Republicans control the lower chamber of Congress but with a very narrow majority.

So when eight rebels joined the Democrats on Tuesday night his fate was sealed in a 216-210 final vote.

It is the first time a House Speaker, one of the top jobs in US politics, has been removed in this way.

Why was Kevin McCarthy removed?

The rebellion was led by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz after Mr McCarthy relied on Democratic votes to get a short-term spending deal passed on Saturday to avert a government shutdown.

Mr Gaetz accused him of making a “secret side deal” at the weekend with President Biden on Ukraine aid.

But really this was the final act in a bitter saga that has been simmering all year between the Speaker and a right-wing faction in his party.

They tried to block his election to the post in January, saying he could not be trusted to enact conservative principles.

In their view he proved that by striking a deal with Democrats in June to raise the debt ceiling without extracting the deep cuts they wanted.

Now they are the ones being accused of treachery – some Republicans are openly talking about expelling Mr Gaetz.

How will McCarthy be replaced?

The House is on recess for a week and in this period members will be discussing who to back in the looming vote for a new Speaker.

That has been scheduled for Wednesday 11 October but it could take days or weeks to find someone who can get the backing of a majority of the House.

It took Kevin McCarthy 15 votes over four days to finally be elected.

Given the bad blood in the party over his removal it is hard to imagine a figure who could unite the warring factions.

Who could replace McCarthy as speaker?

On a temporary basis it is Patrick McHenry of North Carolina who heads a secret list of interim leaders Mr McCarthy submitted when he got the job.

He does not have the power to run the chamber but “may exercise such authorities of the office of speaker as may be necessary and appropriate pending the election of a speaker,” according to House rules.

That would appear to rule out bringing legislation to the floor.

Louisiana’s Steve Scalise and Ohio’s Jim Jordan have both announced that they will seek the job.

Mr McCarthy has ruled out running again.

Why did Democrats vote to remove McCarthy?

Some Democrats seemed to enjoy the chaos sparked by the Speaker’s removal but there was also a list of grievances that counted against him winning their support.

“Nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy,” said Pramila Jayapal, a liberal Democratic congresswoman on Tuesday morning after a meeting with party colleagues.

They felt betrayed by Mr McCarthy’s U-turn in the days after the storming of the Capitol, when he first condemned Donald Trump’s role in it and then backed him.

As Speaker his attempts to placate his right flank infuriated Democrats, with the ditching of Ukraine aid in the short-term funding bill the latest example.

Why does it matter?

The Speaker runs the chamber and is second in line for the presidency. For at least a week there is a vacuum at the top of US government.

There are also important issues the House needs to address in the coming weeks – agreeing an annual budget to avoid a shutdown, deciding on aid to Ukraine and how to proceed with the impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden.

A deeper consequence is a reputational one.

Polling suggests that confidence in government has been falling among Americans for some time.

This chaos may harden that feeling further and add to a sense that the US political system just isn’t working.

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