Kevin McCarthy, the embattled California Republican and former Speaker of the House, has announced he’s leaving Congress. Ending his 16-year tenure, McCarthy’s decision marks a significant moment in American politics, especially for a figure who’s been both a power player and a subject of controversy within the GOP.
McCarthy’s journey to becoming Speaker in January 2023 was no cakewalk, requiring a grueling 15 rounds of voting amid deep divisions within his party. His efforts to pacify hardline Freedom Caucus members led to his downfall, particularly with his rule change that allowed a single House member to trigger a vote to remove the Speaker. This change backfired spectacularly when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), a known McCarthy critic, initiated such a vote, leading to McCarthy’s unprecedented removal from the Speaker’s position – a first in U.S. history.
“I know my work is only getting started,” McCarthy stated in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, signaling his intent to continue his public service in new capacities. However, his departure is more than just a personal career move; it significantly impacts the already fragile GOP majority in the House. Following his exit, along with those of Rep. George Santos (R-New York) and another GOP lawmaker, the Republicans’ majority hangs by a thread.
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, will soon announce the date for a special election to fill McCarthy’s seat, as mandated by state law. Although the seat is expected to stay in Republican hands, the required timeline for the election means the GOP will have to navigate a delicate majority in the House for the foreseeable future.
McCarthy’s legacy is complex, marked by his unwavering loyalty to former President Donald Trump, particularly after the January 6, 2021, Capitol attack. Initially critical of Trump during the attack, McCarthy soon realigned himself with the former president, becoming a key ally and defender. His actions as Speaker, from derailing a bipartisan investigation into the Capitol riot to launching a baseless impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden, have been controversial and indicative of his political maneuverings.
As McCarthy stepped away from his congressional role, he left behind a Republican Party grappling with internal strife and a narrow majority that could see significant challenges in the months ahead. His departure is not just the end of an era for him but also a turning point in the current political dynamics of the House.