Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters hours after he was ousted as Speaker of the House, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington. AP
The maneuver laid bare the chaotic levels of infighting among Republicans heading into the 2024 presidential election, with its likely candidate Donald Trump making history of his own as the only former or sitting president to face criminal indictment.
The first ouster of a speaker in the House's 234-year history was supported by only a handful of right-wing Republican hardliners.
However, the House is almost evenly divided and with Democrats joining eight rebel Republicans rather than riding to McCarthy's rescue, he had no way to survive.
"I ended up being the 55th speaker of the House -- one of the greatest honors. I loved every minute," a circumspect McCarthy told reporters after the vote, making clear he did not plan to stand again.
"And the one thing I will tell you is doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it is necessary. I don't regret standing up for choosing governance over grievance."
The 58-year-old former entrepreneur had sparked fury among conservatives when he passed a bipartisan stopgap funding measure at the weekend backed by the White House to avert a government shutdown.
Florida conservative Matt Gaetz, who forced the removal vote, gambled that he could oust McCarthy with just a few Republicans, helped by Democrats loath to bail out a speaker who only recently opened a highly politicized impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.
"The reason Kevin McCarthy went down today is because nobody trusts Kevin McCarthy," Gaetz said. "Kevin McCarthy has made multiple contradictory promises, and when they all came due, he lost."
South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace revealed she, too, had soured on McCarthy over promises to put legislation up for a vote that were never honored.
Democrats pointed to his decision to renege on a deal with Biden on spending limits agreed earlier this year in high-stakes talks over the federal budget.
Biden issued a statement through his press secretary after McCarthy's overthrow urging the House to quickly choose a replacement, arguing that the urgent challenges facing the country "will not wait."
'Pigsty of incompetence'
The New Democrat Coalition, a bloc of pro-business Democratic lawmakers, described McCarthy as "simply not trustworthy." And Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, a leading leftist, vowed to let Republicans "wallow in their pigsty of incompetence" rather than rescue McCarthy.
The tussle came just days after the House and Senate passed a measure to avert a costly government shutdown -- both with big bipartisan majorities -- by extending federal funding through mid-November.
Conservatives were furious, seeing their chances dashed for forcing massive budget cuts.
They accused McCarthy of a flip-flop, saying he'd promised an end to hastily prepared stopgap legislation, hammered out with the support of the opposition, and a return to budgeting through the committee process.
With McCarthy out, a temporary speaker put the House into recess as Republicans gathered to discuss picking a replacement.
The ousted speaker, who got the gavel in a marathon 15 rounds of balloting in January, didn't immediately endorse a successor.
His decision not to run again sets up a potential showdown among McCarthy's lieutenants -- most likely House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer.
Gaetz and fellow anti-McCarthy dissident Bob Good told CNN after the meeting the House was leaving town until a "candidate forum" on Tuesday next week, which Good expected to be followed by the first round of votes the following day.
But Republican hopefuls may shy from taking on what looks like a poisoned chalice in which the hard-right faction will continue to exercise control from the sidelines.
Trump -- who is facing 91 felony charges and was in court Tuesday in New York as a defendant in a civil fraud trial -- berated Republicans on his social media platform for "always fighting among themselves." Tellingly, though, he offered no support for McCarthy.