Two months after being removed as U.S. House speaker, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy announced on Wednesday that he is stepping down and leaving Congress by the end of the year.
His announcement came as a surprise to many. McCarthy rose through state and national politics to become second in line to the presidency before being removed as Speaker of the House in October by a small group of hard-right conservatives.
McCarthy holds the distinction of being the only speaker in history to be ousted from the speakership.
McCarthy announced his decision in The Wall Street Journal, saying, “No matter the odds or personal cost, we did the right thing. It is in this spirit that I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways.”
McCarthy’s exit will further narrow the already slim House GOP majority, leaving only a few seats to spare.
Internal conflicts within the Republican Party have created divisions, and the recent expulsion of indicted Rep. George Santos (R-NY) has added to the complications. As a result, it has been difficult for Republicans to effectively handle the essential tasks of governing.
McCarthy successfully led the Republicans to the majority, but leading the various factions within the GOP proved to be more challenging.
His removal stemmed from his choice to collaborate with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown instead of taking the risk of allowing one to occur.
Newly appointed House Speaker Mike Johnson said McCarthy “served faithfully and made significant sacrifices for the good of our country and our cause.”
Johnson said McCarthy was a “long and trusted friend,” and he was “sad to see him go.”
After McCarthy’s announcement, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who spearheaded the campaign to oust McCarthy, posted a single-word response on X, “McLeavin.”
Later, Gaetz criticized McCarthy, expressing concern that his departure would weaken the GOP’s already fragile hold on power. Gaetz told reporters, “I think he should have stuck around and helped us hold a strong majority. But he left.”
Former @SpeakerMcCarthy is quitting Congress. He’s essentially saying if he cannot run the place as Speaker, then he will leave.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) December 6, 2023
McCarthy leaving could cause House Republicans to face financial challenges as they strive to maintain the majority.
Before his departure, McCarthy moved $3 million from his political funds to support vulnerable GOP members, state Republican parties and the House GOP campaign arm.