Explainer: How Kevin McCarthy lost the Speaker job

Kevin McCarthy has lost his spot as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives after 10 months in the role, in the first successful vote of its kind in U.S. history.
kevin mccarthy lost speaker

Kevin McCarthy has lost his spot as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives after 10 months in the role, in the first successful vote of its kind in U.S. history.

A handful of Republicans (who hold a majority in the House of Reps), led by hard-right Florida representative Matt Gaetz, united with Democrats (the opposition) to oust McCarthy, citing a broad range of concerns.

How did this happen, and what’s next?

What’s the Speaker’s role?

The House Speaker’s role is to manage the passage of bills, assign representatives to committees, and maintain order in debates.

Despite technically being an impartial role, the Speaker acts as leader of the majority party in the House.

The Speaker is also second in line for the Presidency after the Vice-President, meaning in the event that both the President and Vice-President are unable to perform their roles, the Speaker leads the country.

Who is Kevin McCarthy?

Kevin McCarthy is a Republican who has represented a central California electorate since 2006. After the 2022 midterm elections, McCarthy was elected Speaker after 15 rounds of voting — the longest contest in over 160 years.

His election was held up by a group of hard-right members of his own party, including Gaetz, despite majority Republican support.

What happened?

On Monday night (local time), Gaetz filed a ‘motion to vacate’ the Speaker’s position, meaning the House would be forced to vote on whether or not to keep McCarthy.

Two motions to vacate have been raised before, the last in 2015, but neither succeeded.

By Tuesday, Democrats agreed to vote with Gaetz, meaning the hard-right representative only needed to convince a few more Republicans to side with him against McCarthy to pass the vote.


Gaetz moved against McCarthy after he worked with Democrats to pass a bill to prevent a total Government shutdown.

Gaetz accused McCarthy of making a “secret side deal” to avoid a shutdown, in exchange for aid for Ukraine.

Democrats supported Gaetz’s move on the grounds that they didn’t trust McCarthy to work collaboratively to pass legislation.

In a statement, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries said the Republicans’ must take responsibility for their internal problems, which he labelled “the House Republican Civil War”.

McCarthy’s response

“Unfortunately, 4% of our [party] can join all the Democrats and dictate who can be Speaker in this house,” McCarthy told reporters today.

“I don’t think that rule is good for the institution, but apparently I’m the only one,” he added.

McCarthy confirmed he would not run to be Speaker again, and denied making a deal on Ukraine aid to avoid the shutdown.

Biden’s response

A White House spokesperson said President Joe Biden “hopes the House will quickly elect a Speaker.”

Unlike Australia’s Prime Minister, the U.S. President doesn’t sit in the House or the Senate. This means Biden can’t officially take any action on McCarthy’s removal.

What happens now?

An interim Speaker will lead the house until Republicans meet to discuss a new nominee for the role next week. If they agree on a nominee, that person will be elected Speaker.

There are no clear front-runners yet. The next-most powerful House Republican, Steve Scalise, is in treatment for blood cancer.

Gaetz has indicated that the Speaker does not necessarily need to be a member of the House. In January, he voted for former U.S. President Donald Trump during multiple rounds of voting for the Speakership.

Become smarter in three minutes

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed, for free.

Be the smart friend in your group chat

Join thousands of young Aussies and get our 5 min daily newsletter on what matters in your world.

It’s easy. It’s trustworthy. It’s free.