While many Republicans were happy to see Biden push through spending cuts, hardliners were angry at what they saw as a mediocre deal and dubiously insisted that McCarthy could have gotten more. Gaetz repeatedly announced to McCarthy and his allies that Biden would steal their “lunch money” – a claim that Biden’s re-election campaign seized on and embraced armed to praise his negotiating skills.
McCarthy’s allies believe his task was impossible. The debt limit law was a two-year budget deal with the Democrats, but McCarthy quickly canceled it. It bought him time with hardliners, but the moment of reckoning was near. Government funding had to come soon.
In the final days before Tuesday’s vote, many Democrats entertained the idea of saving McCarthy. You wouldn’t have to specifically vote for him; They would simply have to vote “present,” lowering the threshold of Republican votes he must retain. According to many Democratic lawmakers and aides at the time, it was a live ball if they got some concessions in return.
But McCarthy was faced with a conundrum. If he negotiated a deal with Democrats, his critics would portray it as a “secret deal,” further weakening his standing on the right. If he refused this path, he might seal his fate.
On Tuesday morning, he made his decision: He would live or fall with the GOP votes. He went on CNBC and said, “I’m not going to provide anything to the Democrats” to get their support.
“One of the stupidest things”
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, a handful of moderate House Democrats received calls from Republican colleagues urging them to vote to save McCarthy’s job, four sources with knowledge of the discussions said. One source described the calls as “begging”; another said they “took the temperature.”
The Democrats scoffed.
While some initially didn’t like the idea of ousting a speaker for keeping the government open, they couldn’t bring themselves to save a Republican who kowtowed to former President Donald Trump by launching an impeachment inquiry against Biden , even though there was no evidence of wrongdoing. reneged on its budget deal, turning a normally bipartisan defense policy bill into a partisan battle. And their biggest fear: They simply couldn’t trust him.
At their closed-door meeting Tuesday, Democrats watched video of McCarthy’s interview Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” in which he criticized their party for inciting a shutdown despite having a majority of the vote delivered to keep the government open.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called it “a major misstep” that illustrated the mindset of crooked Democrats.
“One of the dumbest things anyone could do on the eve of their survival vote,” he said.
In the end, all Democrats voted to remove McCarthy.
Shortly before the vote, McCarthy’s allies made their final requests.
The No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, Elise Stefanik of New York, said McCarthy exceeded all expectations in his job.
“Then we definitely need higher expectations,” replied Gaetz.
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said removing McCarthy would only strengthen Democrats and lead to “more liberal, not more conservative, results.”
Gaetz was unimpressed.
“It’s good to hear from the main architect of Mr. McCarthy’s debt limit deal,” he said. “They took your lunch money.”
Moments later, McCarthy was gone and McHenry had become the new acting speaker.
Republicans were shocked. Some were serious and overwhelmed. It was an unprecedented moment in American history for a speaker to be ousted from the House of Representatives, and no one knew whether McCarthy would try again.
At a conference meeting a few hours later, McCarthy broke the news to them: He would not run for speaker again.
There was no succession plan and the House of Representatives remained paralyzed until a successor was elected. But who? Who could do a better job than McCarthy?
“Nobody,” one Republican lawmaker wrote during the meeting.
Other Republicans were surprised by McCarthy’s decision.
“It’s unexpected. … I thought he would run again,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-R-S.C., an original McCarthy foe who voted Tuesday to keep him as speaker. “I think he’s just depressed. He is tired. And he’s a good man.”
McCarthy told reporters that he “might” endorse a successor, but did not say who. He said his advice to that person would be: “Change the rules” of the House so it can’t be held hostage by Gaetz or anyone else under the one-person dismissal rule.
On the other side of the Capitol, senators took in the news.
“It’s chaos in the House,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-R-S.C., said in an interview.
“There’s probably a reason why something like this has never happened in the history of the country,” he said. “We have been around for over 200 years. Everyone before us thought this wasn’t a good idea. I think in the end people will look back and say: That’s not a good idea. But it is what it is.”
Seconds later, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., walked up to Graham and joked, “Hey Lindsey, you know you don’t have to be a member of the House of Representatives to be elected speaker.”
“Yes, but you have to be sensible,” Graham replied.
They both giggled.
“And I have the sense to say no,” Graham added.