Oct 3, 2023 - Politics & Policy

What happens next after McCarthy ouster

Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 3. Rep. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The removal of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker on Tuesday threw an already fragmented caucus deeper into chaos.

The big picture: The unprecedented ouster depicts a House divided against itself, particularly within the GOP, and could result in a stalemate over who assumes the speakership.

  • It's the first time in U.S. history that a House Speaker has been voted out of office. So what happen's next is somewhat uncharted territory.
  • "There's national implications for our economy, and internationally, our reputation as a stable democracy," said Jared Carter, first amendment expert and professor at Vermont Law and Graduate School, in a phone interview Tuesday evening.

Who will be the next House speaker?

  • Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a McCarthy ally, will temporarily serve as acting speaker while House Republicans find a successor.
  • Names being floated include Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Mike Johnson (R-La.).
  • "Because of the razor thin margins, it's anybody's guess who can cobble together those votes," Carter told Axios.
  • While McCarthy could technically also throw his hat back in the ring, he announced later Tuesday that he would not seek the Speakership.

How does a successor get elected?

  • The Constitution does not lay out a framework and only specifies that the House shall choose its Speaker, which comes down to a majority vote.
  • Typically, the two-party caucuses put forward their choice and the majority party votes in its own candidate.
  • "That's how it's historically worked," Carter said. "It's unclear how that's going to play out now in light of the house being divided against itself."
  • The House will have to vote on a Speaker until they have a new one.

Flashback: It took Republicans 15 rounds of voting over five days to elect McCarthy earlier this year — marking the first time in a century that a speaker required more than one ballot to take the gavel.

Can the House still function in the meantime?

  • Legally, yes. There is an interim Speaker so the House can continue to function, vote and pass bills.
  • Practically speaking, it's unlikely, Carter said."The Speaker's role in the process is so significant that they've really got to deal with this first in order to become a functioning branch of government," he explained.

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