Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is resigning from Congress and will leave at the end of this year, he announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday — a highly anticipated decision that comes two months after his unprecedented ouster from the speakership.
McCarthy’s decision will narrow the House GOP’s already historically slim majority, which just last week got smaller after the expulsion of ex-Rep. George Santos of New York. How much room Republicans have to work with next year will depend on the outcome of a handful of special elections in 2024.
McCarthy, who has been in office for 17 years and spent much of it at the leadership table, touted his accomplishments in the op-ed and made clear he has no regrets about his tenure. McCarthy, who battled through 15 grueling rounds to win the speaker’s gavel in January, was removed just nine months later after infuriating his right flank for putting a stopgap spending bill on the floor with the support of Democrats.
“No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing. That may seem out of fashion in Washington these days, but delivering results for the American people is still celebrated across the country,” he wrote.
“I never could have imagined the journey when I first threw my hat into the ring,” he continued. “ I go knowing I left it all on the field—as always, with a smile on my face. And looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
House Republicans are planning to fete McCarthy at a party next week, according to a copy of the invite provided to CNN. The celebration was planned before McCarthy’s public announcement, but Republicans were anticipating that he would not seek reelection and wanted to organize a party to thank McCarthy and send him off, a source involved in the planning told CNN.
McCarthy is leaving Congress having made a few enemies within the House GOP Conference. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was quick to take a victory lap, posting “McLeavin” and promoting a previously released thirteen-minute video based on the ouster of McCarthy, which he led.
Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who served alongside McCarthy for nearly two decades, wished his friend well and while he would have hoped McCarthy remained in the ranks he pointed to the “personal” nature of the decision.
Scalise repeatedly stressed that “being former Speaker is a tough job,” alluding to the tensions that remain in the GOP conference since his ouster. McCarthy had been attending meetings sporadically but some members had made it known his presence was not welcome.
Republicans’ margin will depend on the special elections for the seats of Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of New York and GOP Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio next year and the outcome of the election in New York to replace Santos on February 13. Johnson is expected to leave in the first quarter of 2024. Higgins is slated to leave sometime in February.
House Republicans would go down to a thin two-vote margin with either the Johnson departure, or if the seat vacated by the expulsion by George Santos is filled by a Democrat. But that margin could revert back to a three-seat vote margin when Higgins leaves.
“It’s going to keep getting more narrow,” Scalise conceded on the shrinking majority.
Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, thanked McCarthy for his “contributions to our country and to growing the House Republican majority.”
“A razor-sharp political mind, Kevin personally raised hundreds of millions of dollars and recruited hundreds of diverse candidates that led us from deep in the minority to the majority,” Hudson said in a statement. “This devotion to building our party is born from a strong love of country and a heart for service that motivates Kevin at his core.”
McCarthy also released a video outlining his decision.
“But now, it is time to pursue my passion in a new arena,” McCarthy said in the video. “While I will be departing the House at the end of this year, I will never, ever give up fighting for this country that I love so much.”
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