The U.S. House is without a leader after hard-right Republicans moved to oust Speaker Kevin McCarthy and eight of them voted with all House Democrats to do so. That makes McCarthy’s tenure as House Speaker the shortest since 1875, and that Speaker died in office of consumption.
Watching this unprecedented moment from the press gallery was Alaska Public Media Washington Correspondent Liz Ruskin.
Casey Grove: Liz, what was it like in there?
Liz Ruskin: It was really somber. The roll call vote was manual, meaning the clerk called all 435 members of the House by last name. Once that was over and the yays and nays announced, it was nearly silent in the Chamber. And with all the reporters and visitors in the galleries – there must’ve been a thousand people in there. Then this kind of an apprehensive murmur rose up, and from the Republican side of the room, one person shouted, “Now what?” And that really is the question.
CG: Yeah, so now what?
LR: Well, no one knows. The Republicans huddled behind closed doors. The Democrats are coming back tomorrow to huddle. Various names are floated, and we’ve just heard word that Kevin McCarthy won’t run again. Democrats as they left the Chamber said they’d vote for the Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries – which is really their way of saying they’re not going to bail out the Republicans. They hung together today, with all Democrats voting yes on the motion to vacate.
CG: That’s all the Democrats present, right? I understand Alaska Congresswoman Mary Peltola did not vote.
LR: That’s right. She hasn’t returned to Washington since her husband’s death Sept. 12. She’s in Alaska, with her family. Her office says she’s been on standby, ready to fly in if her vote was needed, but it hasn’t come down to that. This vote, for instance, to vacate the chair, passed with five votes to spare.
CG: Far-right Republicans keep saying they want to vote on individual spending bills, not a big package all rolled into one. Is that a reasonable ask?
LR: It is, and that is how it’s supposed to go. The Appropriations Committees consider each of a dozen spending bills, one by one, and then each one goes to the House and Senate floor for a vote. But the thing is, some of these very House Republicans who’ve been a thorn in the speaker’s side – are the ones jamming up these spending bills. So Republicans loyal to McCarthy say they’re like arsonists complaining that their house is burning while they block the fire trucks.
CG: Over the weekend, Congress avoided a shutdown by funding the government until mid-November. It seems like they couldn’t get much done before, and now, this.
LR: Right, the House looks more stuck than ever. And one of the big ironies to me, anyway, is that the immediate cause of McCarthy’s ouster, why this group of eight chose to ditch him now, is that he passed a stopgap spending bill with the help of Democrats. And so the hard right, led by Congressman Matt Gaetz, ousted the speaker – and he did that mostly with Democratic votes. All the Democrats voted to vacate the chair.
CG: It’s definitely understandable that Congresswoman Peltola is here in Alaska, and Alaskans’ thoughts continue to be with her and her family. But do we know when Peltola will be back in D.C.?
LR: She’s been planning to come back in mid-October and I think that’s still the case. And, of course, in the meantime her office reminds us their doors are still open for constituents who need help and they say the congresswoman keeps in regular contact.