October 3, 2023 will go down in American history as the first time a Speaker of the House was expelled from Congress by his own peers. Kevin McCarthy, a man consumed of blind personal ambition and self-interest, was shown the exit door by his congressional colleagues.
Eight Republicans – Andy Biggs, Ken Buck, Tim Burchett, Eli Crane, Matt Gaetz, Bob Good, Nancy Mace and Matt Rosendale – joined all Democrats (who were unanimous) in voting out McCarthy. The American public witnessed Republican members of the House of Representatives engage in a intraparty, public meltdown.
McCarthy’s term inaugurated with rabble rousing and unsettling chaos, taking 15 rounds of balloting in order for his ratification as speaker to take effect. From that theatrical moment onward, his rocky tenure progressed from one conjured up crisis to another – an unnecessary debt ceiling showdown, failed votes and pulled bills on the floor, name-calling in Republican caucus meetings.
On the other side of the aisle, McCarthy reassured Democrats fair and equitable treatment and a stake in governing while championing deeply partisan legislation they found unfathomable. He forgave former President Trump after previously denouncing him for the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. He condescendingly spearheaded an impeachment inquiry into President Biden when he was being verbally attacked and threatened by far-right wing members of his caucus. He ratified a spending deal with the White House before backing out.
More incredulously, he recently made the rounds on the Sunday talk show blaming Democrats as the reason the government almost shut down. Yes, the same Democrats whose votes helped McCarthy avert a shutdown.
Bullied by far-right wingers in his own party, distrusted by Democrats, McCarthy found himself in a political no man’s land, and thus pretty much talked himself out of his job. Virtually no one trusted him, and for good reason.
Democrats were in unison toward their opposition to McCarthy. Their refusal to become his defense culminated in a consistent pattern of what they viewed as untrustworthy behavior. Hitching his political wagon to the Trump train. Secretly sending a tape of the Capitol riots to right-wing media outlets to garner favor. Removing Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney from leadership over her principled opposition to the Freedom Caucus. Willingly ushering in, granting favor and unchecked power to extreme right-wing politicians such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and others. Minimizing the January 6th attack and reportedly undermining the congressional investigation into the insurrection.
In reality, McCarthy’s fall was of his own making. He granted the Freedom Caucus a (still undisclosed) set of concessions during his effort to become speaker back in January, and one of those concessions was to lower the threshold for a motion to vacate to just one member. Talk about desperate and spineless.
McCarthy knew that he would need some Democratic votes to keep the speakership. But he did not provide Democrats anything in return for such votes. This fact in particular, coupled with a host of other issues, sealed McCarthy’s futile destiny. Democrat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, made it official by saying it was up to Republicans alone “to end the House Republican Civil War.”
Republican dysfunction and chaos aside, there are many pundits who argue that Democrats face their own potential dilemma. Was the feckless devil they knew a more secure bet than a future replacement they did not?
Regardless, whomever succeeds McCarthy will likely be at political mercy and will of the far-right faction that expelled him — perhaps even more so. Yet it was Democrats that ultimately decided McCarthy was not worth rescuing, with all 208 voting on Tuesday to remove him.
Truth is, they probably made a very smart decision.