Chaos in US as House ousts speaker in historic vote

The US House of Representatives has ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his job in a historic vote that has ignited further acrimony in Washington.

The 216-210 vote late on Tuesday (US time) came as infighting among McCarthy’s fellow Republicans plunged Congress into further chaos just days after it narrowly averted a government shutdown.

It is the first time the House has removed its leader, and was driven by a relatively small group of right-wing Republicans.

McCarthy will be temporarily replaced by fellow Republican Patrick McHenry, who is a key ally. His name was on a list McCarthy was required to compile in case of a vacancy.

But no clear successor has emerged.

The rebellion was led by Matt Gaetz, a far-right Republican from Florida and McCarthy antagonist who accused the party leader of not doing enough to cut federal spending or to stand up to Democratic President Joe Biden.

“Kevin McCarthy is a creature of the swamp. He has risen to power by collecting special interest money and redistributing that money in exchange for favours. We are breaking the fever now,” Gaetz said after the vote.

It was the latest moment of high drama in a year in which the Republican-controlled House has brought Washington to the brink of default and the edge of a partial government shutdown.

McCarthy’s party controls the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, meaning it can afford to lose no more than five votes if Democrats unite in opposition. That happened on Tuesday, as eight Republicans voted with 208 Democrats to remove McCarthy.

McCarthy’s ouster essentially brings legislative activity in the House to a halt, with another government shutdown deadline looming on November 17 if Congress does not extend funding.

The White House said it hoped the House would move swiftly to choose a replacement speaker, a position behind only the president and vice-president in US political ranks.

McCarthy does not plan to try to run for speaker again, Politico reported.

Other Republican leaders such as Steve Scalise and Tom Emmer could possibly be candidates, though neither has publicly expressed interest. Representative Patrick McHenry has taken the role on a temporary basis.

The last two Republican speakers, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, retired from Congress after clashes with their right wing.

Tuesday’s vote left Congress in uncharted waters as it scrambles to update farm-subsidy and nutrition programs, pass government funding bills, and consider further aid to Ukraine.

McCarthy had repeatedly angered Democrats in recent weeks, including by launching an impeachment inquiry into Biden and on Saturday by giving them little time to read a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown that he needed their votes to pass.

Democrats could have saved McCarthy but, after considering it, said they would not help Republicans resolve their own problems.

They also said they viewed McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke a May agreement on spending with Biden.

Gaetz was one of more than a dozen Republicans who repeatedly voted against McCarthy’s bid for speaker in January. McCarthy ultimately secured the gavel after 15 rounds of voting. To win the job, he agreed to rules that made it easier to challenge his leadership.

McCarthy supporters have said Gaetz was motivated by a hunger for publicity, a chance to win higher office, or resentment over an ongoing ethics probe into possible sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.

Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he was not motivated by a dislike of McCarthy.

“This isn’t a critique of the individual, it’s a critique of the job. The job hasn’t been done,” he said.

-with AAP

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