McCarthy to Leave Congress at End of the Year

December 6, 2023 by Dan McCue
McCarthy to Leave Congress at End of the Year
Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who announced his retirement on Wednesday. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., ousted from that position just two months ago by hard-right members of his own party, announced Wednesday that he will retire from Congress at the end of the month.

“I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways,” McCarthy wrote in an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal Wednesday morning.

“I know my work is only getting started,” he said.

McCarthy’s retirement brings to an end a 16-year career in the House of Representatives, one that saw him swiftly rise through the ranks of Republican leadership in the chamber, only to see his ambitions crash after just eight months as speaker.

In a sense, his downfall was a byproduct of his ambitions. So badly did he want to be speaker, that he agreed to allow for a procedure, a “motion to vacate,” to be included in the House rules, effectively making his ejection much easier.

It required only one member to move the motion, forcing a vote. In the end, it was Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a long-time antagonist of McCarthy, who made the motion that led to a vote preceded by his critics accusing the speaker of repeatedly reneging on his promises.

So swiftly did McCarthy’s downfall occur that his fellow Republicans had no plan to replace him.

In the end, it took three weeks and the rejection of multiple candidates before the conference finally settled on Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., a newcomer to the party’s leadership ranks.

McCarthy’s decision is not a surprise. Since his ouster, he appeared somewhat lost in his new role as a rank-and-file member. He reportedly had stopped attending conference meetings and vacillated when asked about his reelection plans.

“I’m taking a look at that,” he said.

His announcement came just days before California’s Dec. 8 filing deadline to run for reelection.

And last month he was involved in a minor controversy when Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., one of those who championed his removal, accused the former speaker of striking him as they passed in a Capitol hallway.

McCarthy denied intentionally hitting anyone.

In his op-ed, McCarthy said he would “continue to recruit our country’s best and brightest to run for elected office.”

“The Republican Party is expanding every day, and I am committed to lending my experience to support the next generation of leaders,” he wrote.

Now that McCarthy has made his decision, California Gov. Gavin Newsom will have to call a special election to replace him.

McCarthy’s term was set to end in January 2025. He represents California’s 20th District, which covers much of the state’s Central Valley and is considered safely Republican.

However, his imminent departure will further shrink the slim Republican majority, which slipped to three seats from four with the expulsion last week of Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y.

With his exit, McCarthy will join the more than three dozen House members who have announced they will not seek reelection in 2024, because they are either retiring or seeking other office.

In a statement, Richard Hudson, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said, “Kevin McCarthy’s contributions to our country and to growing the House Republican majority are unparalleled. 

“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. 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,” Hudson said.

“Born to humble beginnings, he worked for everything he had in life — driving the son of a firefighter to climb to the highest heights of American politics. Kevin is a believer in the American dream because he lived it,” he continued.

“Not only is Kevin McCarthy all of these things — he is also my close personal friend and mentor. Kevin taught me to always be the bigger person, focused on doing big things to make everyone around you better. Thank you, Kevin McCarthy. I wish you and Judy all the best as you begin this new chapter of life,” Hudson added.

Also commenting on McCarthy’s decision was former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who said in a written statement:  “Kevin McCarthy and I served together in Congress for over sixteen years. For much of that time, we both held leadership positions within our respective parties.

“Anyone who has watched one of the many weekly colloquies that he and I participated in over the years knows that we have very different views on policy and often disagree with each other’s decisions,” Hoyer continued. “Despite our differences, however, we became friends. His ouster from the speakership and his decision to retire from the House are the product of a Congress in which polarization has become the norm and trust the exception.  

“Kevin and I found consensus on a number of issues over the years. I traveled with Kevin to Israel last spring as a part of the House’s longstanding bipartisan effort to strengthen our vital U.S.-Israel relationship,” Hoyer said. “That bipartisan cooperation to support Israel is crucial now more than ever before. We also worked together to bring this institution that we love into the twenty-first century by cohosting the annual Congressional Hackathon and by establishing the House’s Technology Modernization Fund.

“These efforts have helped the House better serve the American people and will have a lasting impact for generations to come,” he said, adding that he and McCarthy helped bring Democrats and Republicans together to help Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands rebuild after the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and to strengthen the islands’ infrastructure against future disasters. 

“Kevin faced challenging circumstances as speaker,” Hoyer said. “When possible, I did what I could to help him navigate them so that the House could function in a bipartisan manner. Although Kevin did not always agree with my advice, I appreciated his willingness to hear my perspective. We had our disagreements, but in many instances when the stakes were high for our nation, Kevin did what was right for the country.”

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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