WASHINGTON — Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced Tuesday night that he won't seek 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 media after a closed-door meeting with GOP lawmakers.
McCarthy initially informed Republican colleagues about his decision at the meeting, multiple lawmakers said as they left the gathering. McCarthy served as House speaker for the last nine months after a chaotic effort within the GOP conference in January to elect him.
Asked Tuesday night by a reporter whether he plans to remain a member of Congress, McCarthy said, "I'll look at that."
The House adopted a motion to remove him as speaker. The vote was forced by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a conservative critic who made certain demands of McCarthy ahead of the deadline over the weekend to prevent a government shutdown.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., became the acting 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 Monday that would trigger a floor vote on removing McCarthy as speaker, arguing that McCarthy had not complied with the terms Gaetz had insisted upon in 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 McCarthy had agreed to at the time as he tried to assuage conservatives was to allow the reinstatement of a rule that would permit a single lawmaker to force a vote to oust a speaker in the middle of a congressional session.
Before the House vote to oust him 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," he 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 been 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 had been considered at one point for the speakership, but he 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 attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya, was intended to hurt then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's presidential bid. Ryan then entered the race and was elected speaker.
McCarthy has been a member of the House since 2007.