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The future of the House after McCarthy's ouster


Congress plunged into chaos today as Kevin McCarthy became the first speaker of the House in history to be removed from the job by a vote of his own chamber, the U.S. House of Representatives. The stunning moment was the result of a monthslong game of chicken between McCarthy and fellow Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz. In the end, it took just eight Republicans to vote with Democrats to remove McCarthy from the job, leaving Republicans with no answer for how they'll govern.

NPR political correspondent Susan Davis is at the Capitol and joins me now. Hi, Sue.


SUMMERS: So Sue, I just want to start by putting this moment into some context. We've never seen anything like this before. No speaker has ever been removed from his or her job in this manner. What does this mean for the country right now, but also the ability of Congress to function and to govern?

DAVIS: In some ways, Congress can still function because, unlike in January, the House has already been constituted, and members are sworn in. Committees could still meet. Lawmakers can still help their constituents, for example. But the business before the House is now electing a new speaker. No other legislation can be considered. No other business can happen. Republicans tonight decided to adjourn. They will not be back in Washington until Tuesday. They are hoping to have an answer to the question - who will be the next speaker, or who will be nominated for speaker? Kevin McCarthy, just moments ago, announced publicly that he will not stand again for speaker. He does sound like he will continue to serve in the House, but he will not be put up for nomination, and now Republicans have to find someone who can.

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SUMMERS: So, I mean, it only took a handful of Republicans, voting along with most Democrats, to upend the power structure of the entire House of Representatives, essentially. Remind us briefly, if you can, how we got to this point.

DAVIS: McCarthy, from day one, has always had a small group of hard-right detractors who fought him from the beginning. You know, he had to fight for 15 rounds over several days to win the votes to become speaker. And in doing so, he had to make concessions that ultimately led to his doom today. He agreed to change House rules to allow just one member to bring a motion to the floor to throw him out as speaker. Democrats thought that was a bad idea. They did not allow that rule to exist when they controlled the chamber. But McCarthy had to agree to that concession to get the votes to become speaker. Ultimately, that vote was used against him today. He even said in his press remarks this evening that he now thinks that that rule is a bad idea and should be changed for the next speaker, but it's also unclear if Republicans can have the votes to change the rule to make it harder to do this to the next speaker.

SUMMERS: I mean, we saw that Democrats, on the other side of the aisle, were pretty unified, quite forceful...

DAVIS: Yeah.

SUMMERS: ...In their decision not to help McCarthy. Were you surprised by that?

DAVIS: You know, I thought there might have been a little bit more rumination this morning, but Democrats pretty quickly came together. Look, I don't think you can understate how little regard most Democrats have for Kevin McCarthy, even to - up to this weekend, when Kevin McCarthy went on television and blamed Democrats for trying to shut down the government without acknowledging that Democrats had to provide the majority of votes to keep the government open.

But this bad blood runs deep. It goes back even prior to when Kevin McCarthy was speaker. It goes back to things like the January 6 attack on the Capitol and his efforts to align himself with Donald Trump after that, to undermine the investigation into the attack, and even to the present day. He has now authorized - or he had authorized an impeachment inquiry into President Biden, and I think that made it pretty politically impossible for any Democrat to even consider throwing a lifeline to a Republican speaker at that moment.

SUMMERS: Last thing in the time we have left, Sue - while the House of Representatives is without a permanent leader, North Carolina Republican Representative Patrick McHenry was named interim speaker - any quick things you can tell us about him?

DAVIS: He's a senior member of the House, but he's still quite young. He's 47 years old. There's no indication, as of this evening, that he's interested in the job. The focus right now is shifting to majority leader Steve Scalise. He said he would have no statement tonight, but several Republicans coming out of the meeting...


DAVIS: ...This evening, including the No. 3, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, said he wants to see Steve Scalise run for speaker. We do expect him to be at least among...


DAVIS: ...The nominees who could be put up next week.

SUMMERS: NPR's Susan Davis, thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.