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McCarthy out as House speaker after Democrats joined 8 Republicans to remove him

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Kevin McCarthy is out as House speaker after Democrats joined eight rebellious Republicans in voting to remove him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: You need 218. Unfortunately, 4% of our conference can join all the Democrats and dictate who can be the Republican speaker in this House.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Congress now enters uncharted territory, and it's still unclear who the next long-term leader of the chamber will be.

FADEL: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has been following the turmoil from the Capitol and joins me now. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So what happened yesterday?

GRISALES: So we saw Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz lead this rebellion of eight Republicans you mentioned who voted with Democrats to claim a majority of the votes to oust McCarthy from his speakership. It was a stunning scene in the chamber last night. McCarthy vacillated between a frozen look on his face and laughing, and it ended in this very historic moment.

FADEL: So, Claudia, you've been in the Capitol for all of this drama, and Kevin McCarthy has had a difficult path since the beginning of his speakership - not even a year ago that it started. So tell us about how he got here.

GRISALES: Right. In January, it took 15 rounds for his own party to elect him speaker. He came into the role as one of the weakest speakers in modern times. But despite this, McCarthy did avert a national crisis with two key bipartisan votes in the House this year - the debt limit deal earlier this year and then a bill this past weekend to keep the government open to avert a shutdown. But in the end, it was that last deal that was too much for many hard-liners in his conference who moved to end his speakership.

FADEL: Did McCarthy fight to keep his job?

GRISALES: He argues he did, but truly, this time was marked by a series of unforced errors. A lot of those who voted against him said that he reached out, and when he did, he only solidified their plans to vote against him. One member described his conversation with McCarthy before the vote as condescending. And then in extended remarks to reporters last night, McCarthy was defiant. He attacked everyone who voted against him. But Democrats, for example, who voted to oust him said he did not try to negotiate with them in any way. And this was a culmination of what they saw as a long list of betrayals, from the January 6 attack and his actions that followed to the impeachment inquiry into President Biden today.

FADEL: So now what happens next? I mean, North Carolina Republican Patrick McHenry was named as the interim speaker. What do we know about him?

GRISALES: He was formerly in leadership. He left because of chaos. He now chairs the House Financial Services Committee. He's a longtime McCarthy ally. But he has a good relationship with members. That said, he doesn't appear to be interested in holding on to the gavel permanently. But he played a very key role during the debt limit deal, and many trust him.

FADEL: OK, so how do they pick their next person? I mean, this is a really important time in Congress. What do we know about what happens in the future?

GRISALES: Right. This is unchartered territory. And we should note that we're - now we're facing a new government shutdown deadline, November 17. So they have a lot of work to do. So committees can work, but, for example, the House floor is frozen until a speaker is chosen.

I'm told by members there's going to be a candidate forum for the next speaker Tuesday evening, and they'll try to hold a vote on Wednesday. But the list of candidates to replace McCarthy is growing long. And as we heard from McCarthy, 218 is the magic number that may need to be reached for the new speaker. And there's a big if - if they can get to 218.

FADEL: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks so much, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.