Kevin McCarthy: What happens after US House Speaker's removal?

Joe Biden says next speaker must work to remove 'poisonous atmosphere' in Washington

What happens now that US House speaker Kevin McCarthy has been removed?

What happens now that US House speaker Kevin McCarthy has been removed?
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The US House of Representatives has navigated itself into uncharted territory after it voted to remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker, the first such move in the chamber's history.

Eight Republicans joined all present Democrats in a 216-210 vote to oust Mr McCarthy, ending the California politician's nine-month stint on the job.

Mr McCarthy, resigned that he would not have the support needed, said he would not run for the position again.

“My goals have not changed. My ability to fight is just in a different form,” he said.

Tuesday's stunning vote and Mr McCarthy's decision now creates a power vacuum in a divided Republican chamber that must decide on a new speaker.

What happens next?

The House on Wednesday began a week-long break as Republicans scrambled to find a leader after the shock vote. It is still unclear who Mr McCarthy's successor will be as leader of the House Republicans.

Patrick McHenry, a McCarthy ally, is serving as the acting speaker, and after a visibly frustrated gavel slam on Tuesday he declared the break until both parties can decide on a path forward.

The vacancy has left the House of Representatives at a standstill until a new speaker is elected. Mr McHenry has limited authority as acting speaker and is unable to bring forward legislation until a permanent leader is elected. He also does not have the power to issue subpoenas or sign off on any other official House business.

Matt Gaetz, the far-right congressman who brought the motion to oust Mr McCarthy, is among the growing number of Republicans who have hinted at support for candidates such as Majority Leader Steve Scalise or Whip Tom Emmer.

Representative Jim Jordan, a darling of the right-wing and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee leading President Joe Biden's impeachment inquiry, announced on Wednesday that he would be running for speaker.

Mr Scalise also announced that he is running for the speaker's gavel.

Under House rules, the speaker does not have to be a member of Congress, and some in Washington are suggesting a wild card could be played – for former president and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.

Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday night reported that “some House Republicans have been in contact with and have started an effort to draft former president Donald Trump to be the next speaker and I have been told that Trump might be open to helping the Republican Party at least in the short term, if necessary”.

Mr Jordan even appeared to be open to the idea when asked about the prospect.

“He'd be great … I want him to be president … but if he wants to be speaker, that's fine too,” Mr Jordan told Fox News.

However, current House Republican Conference rules bar anyone indicted on felony charges that have punishments of more than two years in prison. Mr Trump is facing four felony indictments.

The conference could change the rules to allow a such nomination, but even then, it is not clear if Mr Trump would receive enough support.

Mr Biden said that whoever takes up the gavel should work to remove the “poisonous atmosphere” plaguing US politics.

“We have strong disagreements but we need to stop seeing each other as enemies,” he said in remarks from the White House.

Meanwhile, the Senate is still operating this week, with regularly scheduled hearings and business moving forward.

A government shutdown looms – again

Whoever is selected as the next House speaker will have to tackle a challenge that doomed Mr McCarthy's tenure: keeping the government open.

The US federal government is due to shut down on November 17 unless another bill is passed to fund it. But with House members out of town for the rest of the week and speaker elections not expected until next Wednesday, the timetable is further constrained to keep the government open.

“We cannot and should not again be faced with an 11th-hour decision of brinkmanship that threatens to shut down the government,” Mr Biden said.

“And we know what we have to do, and we have to get it done in a timely fashion.”

If the government does shut down, thousands of federal workers will go unpaid, federal agencies will be reduced to minimal staffing and processing visa and passport applications will be snarled. The US credit rating could also take a hit, Moody's has warned.

And many of the issues that dominated the last shutdown deal remain unresolved, including funding for Ukraine and deciding on spending levels for a number of agencies.

But the political calculus has changed little since last weekend, with a fractional group of Republicans threatening to torpedo any deal it does not like.

With such small margins, the next House speaker will suffer similar headaches as his or her predecessor.

Will the US continue to fund Ukraine?

Also under threat by the new House speaker vote is financial assistance to Ukraine.

The White House had sought as much as $24 billion in Ukraine funding in the latest round of government shutdown negotiations, but Congress kicked the can down the road on the issue as they stared down the remaining hours to keep the government open.

And the issue of funding Ukraine will be more complicated should Mr Scalise or Mr Jordan assume power.

“The most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine,” Mr Jordan told reporters. “It is the border situation and crime on the streets.”

Mr Scalise voted for a $300 million Ukraine funding bill last week, although whether he would support continuing to fund Kyiv as speaker remains unclear.

Mr Biden said he was concerned Republican turmoil could hurt Ukraine aid, calling it “critically important for the US and our allies that we keep our commitment”.

Gregory Meeks, a ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reaffirmed Democrats' position to continue supporting Ukraine.

He added the US should “make sure that Ukraine has everything it needs so that it will win this war”.

Updated: October 04, 2023, 7:22 PM