What Happened?  

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), was removed from his leadership position due to the successful use of an obscure parliamentary procedure. The final vote was 216 to 210 (seven Members did not vote) to remove Speaker McCarthy from his leadership office.

Why Did It Happen?

In order to secure the position of Speaker in January 2023, after coming up short in 15 consecutive votes, McCarthy agreed to significant concessions demanded by a small group of conservative Republicans in exchange for dropping their opposition to him. Among those concessions, he agreed to amend the House Rules to allow a single Member to make a motion to remove him as Speaker. Since House Republicans rule with a slim majority, this concession elevated the influence of these individual Members. 

The flash point that ignited the movement to remove the Speaker was the passage of a stop-gap funding measure, called a Continuing Resolution (CR), forestalling a government shutdown for 45 days along with an alleged side deal with the Administration to provide funding for Ukraine.

Gaetz + 7 + House Democrats

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was a vocal leader of the anti-McCarthy effort in the House.

Seeing an opportunity in response to the passage of the 45-day CR, Gaetz filed a motion to vacate the Chair on October 2, 2023. 208 Democrats and 8 Republicans voted to remove McCarthy, setting up a vote of 216 to 210 against the Speaker. While McCarthy first signaled a desire to fight, ultimately, he did not contest the decision and announced that he would not be running again – opening the door for new candidates to step up.

This is the first time in United States history that the Speaker of the House has been removed from office. 

What Happens Now?

The House will reconvene on Tuesday, October 10, and the first order of business is to select McCarthy’s successor. Candidates will make their case to the Republican Conference on Tuesday and will hold an internal secret ballot on Wednesday morning to officially select their nominee. The Republican nominee will still need to secure 217 votes or a majority of the present lawmakers to secure the speakership. Electing the Speaker consists of a time-consuming debate whereby lawmakers are permitted to speak on behalf of their favored candidate, followed by a roll-call vote.  

In the interim, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the Chair of House Financial Services, is serving as Speaker pro tempore. The Speaker pro tempore is authorized under House Rules to “exercise such authorities of the Office of Speaker as may be necessary and appropriate pending the election of a Speaker.” The powers of the Speaker pro tempore are untested. McHenry has informed Members that he does not have the authority to bring a resolution to the floor or pass additional funding measures.  

Who Are The Candidates?

Two Members have declared their candidacy for Speaker. While others, including former President Trump have also shown interest, ultimately it will be a choice between Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH).  

Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA): Currently the second-highest ranking Republican in the House, Scalise has positioned himself as a leader who can unite the fractious Republican Conference. A survivor of a shooting at the 2017 Congressional Baseball Game, Scalise has made strong trust relationships throughout the Republican Conference. He is also a strong fundraiser for the party. 

Several notable Republicans, including Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN), have voiced support for Scalise. However, concerns remain among conservatives about his support for the controversial CR and aid for Ukraine, as well as his capacity to perform the rigorous duties of leading a fractious House as he is undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, though Scalise maintains that his doctors have cleared him for higher office.

Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH): Currently the Chair of House Judiciary and its Select Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. As the first entrant to the race, Jordan reminded the caucus of his vigorous oversight of the Biden Administration, including the ongoing impeachment inquiry.  

Jordan has made a name for himself in Congress as an excellent investigator, who is deeply in tune with the conservative flank of the party. As a founding member of the Freedom Caucus in 2015, he was known as an agitator of House Leadership. However, he emerged as one of McCarthy’s staunchest advocates in the 118th Congress – advocating for him in January and defending him before the Tuesday vote. 

Some conservatives have lined up to support Jordan, including Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Mike Carey (R-OH). Former President Trump endorsed Jordan on his TruthSocial platform, declaring Jordan “will be a GREAT Speaker of the House & has my Complete and Total Endorsement.” However, despite the enthusiasm for his candidacy from the party’s right flank, Jordan will need to convince conference members that he can unify the divided Republican House—particularly members in swing districts or with more moderate bases.  

What Are The Possible Outcomes?

If Scalise becomes Speaker, there would be another vote to replace him as House Majority Leader. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), current Majority Whip, plans to run for Majority Leader, should the position become available. Should he be elevated, that would create an additional opening in Leadership to be filled. 

On the other hand, if Jordan becomes Speaker, there is an opening for the Chair of House Judiciary and the Select Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Former House Oversight Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is a possible replacement and a close ally of Jordan. An interesting outcome is if Scalise becomes Speaker and Jordan leaves House Judiciary to instead become the next heir apparent, serving as House Majority Leader. 

Why Does This Matter? 

The Speaker of the House is second in line to the Presidency, after the Vice President. In addition to this Constitutional role, it is important for Congress to return to a state of normalcy in order to: (1) fund the government by passing annual Appropriations legislation; (2) respond to the turmoil in the Middle East; (3) consider funding for Ukraine; and (4) pass a host of laws that must be reauthorized, including the Farm Bill, the programs of the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Defense Authorization Act.

Partner Kristina M. Moore brings Congressional Investigation experience to Womble. As a former Congressional investigator herself, Kristina is keeping an eye on this historical moment and how all the players will land. Kristina will follow up with another article once the Speaker is selected—detailing what to expect during the next Speaker’s tenure.

Chukwukpee Nzegwu, is a business litigation associate who also works in Womble Bond Dickinson’s white-collar defense, investigations and regulatory enforcement group.