On Tuesday, the United States House passed a motion of no confidence to remove Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy from office. The motion, which received 216 votes in favor and 210 votes against, was presented by Matt Gaetz, who belongs to the most radical wing of the Republicans, the one that in recent days had accused McCarthy of having collaborated with the Democrats to avoid the so-called shutdown , the partial shutdown of the US federal government’s activities.
McCarthy is 58 years old, has been a member of parliament since 2007 and was elected speaker, i.e. de facto president of the House, nine months ago at the end of a very long stalemate due to tensions within the Republicans.
All Democratic and eight Republican deputies voted in favor of McCarthy’s removal. It is not clear what will happen now and there is some disagreement on the procedure to follow: McCarthy will be replaced by a temporary speaker, but it is not known how many powers he will have until a new speaker is elected, with times to be defined.
The removal of McCarthy is important from a political point of view, because it shows how over the last few years the radical wing of the Republicans has gained more and more power, to the point of becoming decisive for the removal of a speaker of their own party, but not only: it is significant in general, because it is the first time in the United States that the deputies in the House vote to remove their speaker.
McCarthy is a highly experienced Republican politician. In recent years he had become very close to the positions of former US president Donald Trump, who, however, in recent days has never publicly expressed himself in favor of McCarthy.
McCarthy faced two separate votes: in the first, the House had to decide whether or not to hold a vote on Gaetz’s motion. If the majority of deputies had decided to reject it, McCarthy would have remained in his place (and Gaetz could still have presented a motion against him again). But the House voted to accept the motion instead. At that point the second, decisive vote began, the one to decide whether McCarthy should be removed from office: the motion was approved and McCarthy received a vote of no confidence.
McCarthy had been the subject of criticism from the more conservative part of his party since his election last January. Disagreements had intensified in recent weeks due to McCarthy’s attempts to avoid the so-called shutdown, the partial closure of the US federal government’s activities. As speaker McCarthy is a kind of president, with a very operational role and the highest ranking in Congress: it was he who had to deal with finding an agreement on the 12 laws with which to finance the following fiscal year, from 1 October to September 30, 2024.
The agreed plan had to be approved by a majority of both parties, but the more conservative component of the Republicans was not convinced and asked for more spending cuts. After weeks of attempts to find a compromise, McCarthy’s solution was to present a continuing resolution to the House, a sort of buffer law that would have financed the government for 45 days and which had brought the Democrats and some of the Republicans.
The compromise found was not to include aid to Ukraine, as the Democrats would have wanted. The law had passed both the House and the Senate, but had greatly displeased the Republicans, who would have wanted more spending cuts (the compromise reached envisages maintaining spending levels similar to when Congress was entirely under the control of the Democrats). Furthermore, the Republicans had already threatened McCarthy to remove him from office if he presented a continuing resolution to the House.
The motion presented by Gaetz had set in motion a complex process in which the House had 48 hours to vote on the motion through a series of steps and votes. One of the most commented issues in the hours preceding the vote was the possibility that McCarthy would make one or more concessions to the Democrats to have the support needed to remain in office, for example on aid to Ukraine, but it was a possibility that McCarthy had ruled out in rather categorically.