After moving up through the ranks of House GOP leadership over the course of nine terms, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) achieved his goal of becoming speaker earlier this year.
Of course, the process involved a grueling 15 votes plagued by infighting and required McCarthy to make a series of concessions to his GOP detractors.
He agreed to a rule change that would allow just one member to call for a vote to vacate the speakership, and it came back to haunt him months later when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) did just that, convincing a handful of Republicans to join Democrats in a historic vote to oust a sitting speaker.
About two months after he was booted from the leadership post, McCarthy announced this week that he will be stepping down from Congress altogether at the end of this year. He provided the bombshell update in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal.
“No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing,” he wrote. “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 signaled a desire to help mentor a new generation of Republican leaders, though he did not offer specifics about what his post-congressional pursuits might entail. He had previously signaled uncertainty about whether he would seek re-election to a 10th term in the House, but there was no real indication that he planned to cut his current term short until the Journal piece was published.
As McCarthy himself recognized during his truncated tenure as speaker, it is particularly difficult to advance a political agenda with such a narrow majority. His upcoming exit will mean Republicans have one fewer vote to spare throughout the remainder of the current session.
His announcement came on the heels of the recent vote to expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY), which removed yet another vote from the Republican caucus.
For his part, Gaetz offered a snarky one-word social media post in response to McCarthy’s announcement.
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) December 6, 2023
The Florida Republican later shared his belief that McCarthy “should have stuck around and helped us hold a strong majority — but he left.”
Some House Republicans bid the former speaker a fond farewell, including his successor, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who called him a “long and trusted friend” who “served faithfully and sacrificed substantially for the good of our country and our cause.”