Ousted-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) exited Congress today, opting to retire early rather than finish his term after an utterly humiliating and unsuccessful eight months as speaker.
In a “no regrets!!”-vibed farewell floor speech, McCarthy acknowledged that “a few” of his colleagues punished him for doing what he thought was right but also still blamed Democrats for his ouster, saying he “disagreed with the votes on this one too” when thanking his colleagues “on the other side of the aisle” for their service. In the immediate aftermath of McCarthy’s ousting, the California Republican alluded to the fact that “the crazy eight led by Matt Gaetz” were instigators, but also mostly blamed Democrats for voting for his removal and grinding legislative work to a halt. That aura of bitterness hung over his speech, while he claimed he would “do it all again.”
“I knew the day we decided to make sure to choose to pay our troops while war was breaking out instead of shutting down was the right decision,” he said, referencing his decision to work with Democrats to pass a stopgap funding bill this fall. “I also knew a few would make a motion because they somehow disagreed with that decision. Do it anyways, I would do it all again.”
While we’re surprised he let himself be humiliated for so long, it was a surprising move for McCarthy to retire so quickly, rather than finishing out his term like most of his colleagues who have announced they’re not running for reelection. But, even if you’re a House Republican with stomach pains about your increasingly thin majority, it’s hard to blame McCarthy.
By retiring now, McCarthy risks decreasing the Republican majority in the House further just ahead of two more shutdown deadlines. With Rep. George Santos’ (R-NY) expulsion and speculation that Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) may leave office early after accepting a position as president at Youngstown State University, the number of Republicans who can rebel during crucial funding votes grows even slimmer still.
While Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) worked with Democrats to pass the laddered CRs that got him out of his first tenuous moment as speaker, that sort of approach is unlikely to fly again.
Of course, the vacancies won’t last long. California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) hasn’t yet scheduled a special election to fill McCarthy’s seat, but California state law requires a special election be held within 140 days of the vacancy, meaning the election will likely take place in the spring. The special election to replace Santos is scheduled for February 13, meaning the deadlines for funding the government outlined in both of the continuing resolutions will have passed before Santos and McCarthy are replaced.