Ex-US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will leave Congress, raising Republican worries

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Ousted U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said on Wednesday that he will leave Congress at the end of this year, a move that raised anxieties among his fellow Republicans about the path that lies ahead for their narrow and fractious majority.

His move came as Congress struggles to move forward on a raft of critically important legislation, including fiscal 2024 spending bills that Congress must adopt by Jan. 19 to avert a partial government shutdown.

The task poses a new and perilous test for McCarthy’s successor, House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, a Christian conservative with relatively little leadership experience who won the gavel after weeks of bitter Republican infighting.

“I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways,” McCarthy, 58, wrote in a Wall Street Journal column.

“It often seems that the more Washington does, the worse America gets,” said McCarthy, who was ousted as speaker by hardline Republicans in early October.

The departure of the former party leader and campaign fundraising juggernaut, who helped Republicans take control of the House in 2022, could hamper party hopes of retaining that majority next year.

While he represents a safely Republican California district, his departure will further narrow Republicans’ already slim 221-213 majority early next year as Congress tries to avert a partial government shutdown in mid-January.

Under California law, a special election must take place within 126 to 140 days from the time the state’s governor calls one.

McCarthy is the latest of several House Republican departures that could reduce Republicans to only a one-seat margin for passing legislation in early 2024.


Representative Mike Simpson, an establishment Republican, said McCarthy’s announcement “absolutely” underscored the difficulty of governing the Republican majority. He noted that McCarthy was removed by eight hardliners representing less than 4% of the party conference, who voted with Democrats.

“It’s going to be difficult for any speaker to satisfy everybody in Congress,” the Idaho Republican said.

“It might make it more difficult on Speaker Johnson, trying to maintain his majority,” Simpson added.

Republican Representative Dusty Johnson said McCarthy’s departure underscores the party’s loss of strategic thinkers at a time when House Republicans need to compromise with the Democratic-led Senate and White House.

“We don’t have enough mature strategic thinkers here … to the extent that we have fewer all-stars on the field. That’s going to hurt,” Johnson said.

McCarthy, who first entered Congress in 2007, spent the ensuing years rising through party leadership ranks in the House before beginning a brief but wild term as the top Republican in Congress. He belonged to a rising generation of Republicans known as “young guns,” which included former Speaker Paul Ryan.

His tenure as speaker was marked by stormy relations with Republican hardliners, who forced him to endure 15 humiliating floor votes before receiving the gavel last January.

Hardliners voted McCarthy out on Oct. 3 after he backed a bipartisan spending measure that averted a government shutdown.

Representative Ken Buck, one of the eight Republicans who ousted McCarthy, called the impending departure “a good decision” for the former speaker and his family. “No, no, no,” Buck replied when asked if he regretted his vote.

McCarthy was replaced by Johnson after weeks of Republican infighting in which three more seasoned candidates were nominated and then rejected.

He drew hardliners’ ire earlier this year by striking a deal with Democratic President Joe Biden that averted a default on U.S. debt and set a $1.59 trillion spending limit for fiscal 2024. Hardliners shuttered the House floor for days over the spending agreement but have since said they would accept it.

McCarthy was the first U.S. House speaker to be ejected from the chair. But he will become the third Republican speaker, after John Boehner and Ryan, to leave Congress following repeated clashes with the Republican hard right.

McCarthy won reelection in 2022 by a 35-point margin, and his California district is not seen as competitive by the three main nonpartisan election forecasters.

(Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by Moira Warburton; editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell, Jonathan Oatis, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)