Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
WASHINGTON — Texas Republicans joined together to support U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership on Tuesday — but it wasn’t enough to save the Californian from becoming the first leader of the chamber in American history to be removed from the position.
The challenge paralleled the troubled election for McCarthy to become speaker in January — historic in its own right because it took 15 tries to get there. At the time, a handful of Texans led the charge to challenge McCarthy’s bid. But this time, the state’s delegation stayed true to their party leaders, with all 23 Texas Republicans who were present voting to save McCarthy and all 13 House Democrats voting to remove him.
The House ended up voting 216-210 to remove McCarthy, with eight Republicans joining all Democrats.
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, was absent Tuesday. He’s missed a number of key votes in recent days due to health reasons. U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell, also missed the vote.
Without a speaker, the House is expected to soon move forward with electing a replacement. In the meantime, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, will serve as speaker pro tempore, meaning the rules and functions of the House will not be suspended. The speaker pro tempore came from a list of people selected by McCarthy. That list is kept secret as a matter of national security, only to become public upon a vacancy by the speaker.
Now the House is consumed with the question of who will be the next speaker — and if McCarthy would try to get his gavel back. While Democrats were fiercely against supporting McCarthy, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a centrist Democrat from McAllen, said he would be open to considering a moderate Republican or someone "at least normal enough that he can keep control of his caucus & get the peoples work done." Gonzalez proposed McHenry and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania, as possibilities.
"I’m ready to deal. But it’s not free!" Gonzalez said in a text message.
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who has long expressed disdain toward McCarthy, kicked off the bid to remove the Republican leader Monday after McCarthy teamed up with Democrats to pass a bipartisan bill to keep the government temporarily funded. The funding bill, called a continuing resolution and that only keeps the government funded through the middle of next month, reneged on a host of conservative policy priorities that Republicans had hoped their party could pass, using the funding deadline as political leverage.
McCarthy only passed the bipartisan continuing resolution after a far more conservative version, negotiated by Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, failed in the House, with a handful of far-right members including Gaetz voting against it.
Roy, once a vocal critic of McCarthy during the January speaker fight, expressed his resistance to ousting McCarthy ahead of the vote, saying it was important to first finish passing legislation to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.
“I am voting against this motion because I disagree with the tactical play call. I do not believe that you pull the coach at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which is where we currently stand,” Roy said on social media.
Roy expressed some understanding for those moving to oust McCarthy, but not everyone was so understanding. Freshman Rep. Nathaniel Moran, R-Tyler, called the move to remove McCarthy the result of “personal vendettas.”
Rep. Jodey Arrington, the Lubbock Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, said on social media there’s “plenty of blame to go around for our recent government funding failures,” but that the stakes were too high to change leadership now.
The motion to vacate has hovered over McCarthy’s head since he first was elected speaker in a tumultuous process last January. Allowing a single member to launch a motion to vacate was one of the last concessions McCarthy made to the far-right members who opposed his speakership bid.
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, blasted the motion to vacate as a waste of time that will make Democrats “look more united to the American people.”
“Some in the GOP would rather focus on infighting and grabbing headlines instead of doing their jobs. That’s no way to win elections or the confidence of the American people,” Crenshaw posted on social media.
Crenshaw said in January that he was uncomfortable with some of the far-right demands during the speaker race, including the rule allowing just one member to push to oust the speaker. He warned at the time of the same circumstance Republicans found themselves in this week — that Democrats could use the measures to remove one of their biggest political nemeses.
Once it became clear this week that enough Republicans would support removing McCarthy, Democrats became a central part in McCarthy’s calculus to stay in power. The two parties gathered in closed door meetings Tuesday morning to rally behind their paths forward.
The Democratic Caucus met in particularly closed quarters, with phones and support staff forbidden, where they deliberated on a strategy. Over a hot breakfast, Democrats expressed frustration and disdain with McCarthy, whom they cast as inherently unreliable after conceding to far-right Republicans like Gaetz in launching an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden and lowering spending beneath levels agreed to between McCarthy and the White House.
Some Democrats expressed concerns earlier about punishing McCarthy for teaming up with their party to pass the continuing resolution and keep the government funded. Members floated the idea of motioning to table the discussion or voting present.
Coming out of the caucus meeting Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo centrist Democrat, said members were still keeping their powder dry and would wait to take their cues from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
But by the end of the caucus meeting Tuesday, it was clear Democrats were not coming to McCarthy’s aid. Jeffries released a letter to the caucus shortly afterward citing a laundry list of Democratic grievances against McCarthy and urged members to vote to remove him.
U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said the overwhelming sense in the caucus was that McCarthy was “untrustworthy” and had reneged on his agreements.
“It’s hard to make a fair deal with someone like that,” Castro said.