The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his job, as infighting among his fellow Republicans plunged Congress into further chaos just days after it narrowly averted a government shutdown.
The 216 to 210 vote marked the first time in history that the House removed its leader, driven by a relatively small group of right-wing Republicans. No clear successor has emerged.
The rebellion was led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a hardline Republican from Florida and McCarthy antagonist who accused the party leader of not doing enough to cut federal spending.
McCarthy's party controls the chamber by a narrow 221-212 majority, meaning that 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 from his post.
In debate on the House floor, Gaetz and a handful of allies criticized McCarthy for relying on Democratic votes to pass temporary funding that headed off a partial government shutdown.
"We need a speaker who will fight for something—anything—other than staying on as speaker," said Republican representative Bob Good.
McCarthy's supporters, including some of the chamber's most vocal conservatives, said he had successfully limited spending and advanced other conservative priorities even though Democrats control the White House and the Senate. They warned their gains would be at risk if they removed their leader.
"Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos, because that's where we're headed," said Republican representative Tom Cole.
Democrats said they would not help Republicans resolve their own problems. They broadly view McCarthy as untrustworthy after he broke an agreement on spending with President Joe Biden, and are angered by his decision to green-light an impeachment investigation of the president.
"Let them wallow in their pigsty of incompetence," Democratic representative Pramila Jayapal told reporters before the vote.
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. In order to win the job, McCarthy 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. Representative Garret Graves pointed out that he has been fundraising off his effort to oust McCarthy. "It's disgusting," he said.
Gaetz has denied wrongdoing and said he is 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," Gaetz said.
(Reporting by Makini Brice, David Morgan, Richard Cowan, Nandita Bose, Moira Warburton, Susan Heavey, and Doina Chiacu; writing by Andy Sullivan; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Alistair Bell, and Howard Goller)