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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

The political environment in the US is quite overwhelming at the moment. It seems as though every day we are met with headlines reporting events that are “historically unprecedented.” It can be easy to read these dystopian articles and feel confused, you may even feel a sense of defeat.

But, as the reports keep telling us, these are unprecedented times. History is quite literally being made and — as far removed from UCSB as it may seem — these events have implications for our lives, futures, and families.

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The most recent of these anomalous affairs is the US House of Representatives deciding to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House. This is an extremely important moment in history and, while it seems like news just broke, those of us who follow politics know that months of political squabbling went into this inevitable end to McCarthy’s speakership. I’m here to simplify this convoluted process to help you understand how we got here, and where we might be headed.

What is the “Speaker of the House of Representatives”

The Speaker of the House of Representatives is a pretty important role. As we know, there are two parties in the House of Representatives: Republicans and Democrats. Depending on how many representatives are elected from each party there is a majority and a minority party. Currently, Republicans are the majority party in the House meaning a Republican will be the speaker. The speaker has various responsibilities including maintaining order and essentially governing all actions of the legislative body.

Who is Kevin McCarthy?

Kevin McCarthy is a congressman from California, representing the 20th district, which includes areas such as Kern, Fresno, Tulare, and Kings counties. McCarthy is somewhat of a veteran in Congress, having been elected in 2006 and serving until his election as speaker of the House of Representatives in January of 2023. The former speaker is a Republican, which means he is a member of the current “majority party” in Congress, but this party is currently very fractionalized between far-right members and more moderate members.

Kevin McCarthy’s Path to Speakership

The fractionalization of the current Republican party made electing a speaker incredibly difficult. You may recall from the news back in January that Kevin McCarthy’s election as speaker was quite tumultuous, taking 15 rounds of voting before he finally had the votes to win. This is because a small group of far-right legislators, often referred to as the “right flank,” made some hefty demands of McCarthy before they agreed to vote for him.

For example, McCarthy agreed to change the rules of the House so it would only take one member of the majority party to call for a vote to oust the speaker of the House. These concessions severely restricted the power McCarthy had once elected speaker and essentially made him beholden to his “right flank” for the remainder of his speakership.

At this point, you may be wondering why McCarthy made these concessions when they so clearly restricted his power and primed his ousting. It can be argued that any member of the majority party would have been subjected to these demands of the right-flank because these far-right members saw an opportunity to gain power and had the means to do it. However, it can also be argued that McCarthy just really wanted to be speaker and was willing to “make a deal with the devil” in order to acquire the position.

The most likely explanation is, however, a combination of the two. The extreme polarization of the majority party made it impossible to pick a candidate that would please both the far-right and more moderate members of the party. While the “right flank” did not have the numbers to elect their chosen speaker, they did have the numbers to prevent an election and used this as a bargaining chip to win political concessions.

Kevin McCarthy as Speaker

McCarthy’s concessions made his short time as speaker incredibly difficult. His inability to stand up to the “right flank” precipitated multiple crises including a debt ceiling crisis and the most recent budget crisis, which allowed the country to teeter on the verge of a government shutdown. To stress the importance of these two crises, a default on our debt would have catalyzed a global economic crisis, and a government shutdown would have millions of government workers left unpaid and social welfare programs halted.

During his time as speaker, McCarthy made himself increasingly unpopular both among the minority democratic party for caving to the wishes of the “right-flank” — including opening a baseless impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden — and among his own party for working across the aisle too much in preventing the above stated crises. Unfortunately for Mr. McCarthy, his speakership was doomed from the moment he was elected, although it can be argued that perhaps he reaped what he sowed.

The Nail in the Coffin

The nail in the coffin for McCarthy was his decision to work with minority party democrats to avoid a government shutdown and pass a funding bill to keep the government open. While a win for the country and anyone relying on income or assistance from the government, this was a fatal move for McCarthy, as his right flank would no doubt call for a vote to oust him over his cooperation with democrats.

All of this finally culminated in a 216-210 vote held on Tuesday to oust speaker Kevin McCarthy. At risk of sounding repetitive, this unprecedented move leaves the House with no leader and therefore unable to conduct any sort of legislative business until a replacement is found and elected. There is no proposed alternative candidate yet, but McCarthy has stated that he will not be seeking to reclaim speakership.

Now that you’re all caught up, hopefully you have a better understanding of why Kevin McCarthy has been ousted and why it is so important. McCarthy represents how debilitating political polarization can be to any sort of governance, and as young voters this is extremely important to take into consideration when casting our ballots.  

Hi! My name is Hailey, I am from Seattle and a third year political science major here at UCSB!