Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says he'll leave Congress at the end of the year, two months after becoming the first House speaker to be ousted from the role in the middle of a congressional term.
Mr. McCarthy, 58, applauded his conference’s actions during his 269-day speakership, which was cut short when he was ousted by critics within his party in October.
“No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing,” he wrote. “That may seem out of fashion in Washington these days, but delivering results for the American people is still celebrated across the country.
“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. I know my work is only getting started.”
Mr. McCarthy said that 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 said.
His departure follows in the footsteps of past Republican speakers such as Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who each left Congress after stepping down from the speakership.
After trying to win the office since 2015, Mr. McCarthy achieved his longtime goal of becoming speaker in January after a historic 15 rounds of balloting.
He faced opposition within his own caucus from the very beginning of the 118th Congress, with conservative lawmakers such as Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), Eli Crane (R-Ariz.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and others voting against his taking the office.
He finally won the speaker’s gavel on the 15th round of voting after the six holdouts to his candidacy voted “present,” lowering the total threshold needed to become speaker just enough for Mr. McCarthy to win.
For the next 269 days, Mr. McCarthy led a deeply divided Republican conference. Splits between the chamber’s most conservative members and its most moderate members defined Mr. McCarthy’s time as speaker.
During his speakership, Republicans approved wide-reaching bills addressing energy, crime, and immigration policy. However, because Democrats hold a majority in the Senate, few of the measures ended up on President Joe Biden’s desk.
Mr. McCarthy’s victory that gave him the speaker’s gavel was ultimately a pyrrhic one, as his job—won by the thinnest possible margin—was constantly threatened by Mr. Gaetz and other opponents.
Those threats culminated on Oct. 3 with a resolution by Mr. Gaetz to remove him from the speaker’s chair after Mr. McCarthy negotiated a short-term spending resolution to avert a government shutdown. That move was a violation of the speaker’s promise in January to return the House to regular order in approving all 12 annual spending bills, according to Mr. Gaetz.
That effort was successful, and Mr. Gaetz joined seven other Republicans and all Democrats in the chamber to declare the speakership vacant, which was followed by three weeks of infighting in the House that ended on Oct. 25 with the election of House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).
Mr. McCarthy began his political career in California, serving in the state Assembly from 2002 to 2006. That same year, he was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.
He served as the House Republican deputy whip and then as House GOP whip between 2009 and 2014. Later, he moved up to the post of House majority leader while Mr. Boehner was serving as speaker.
Following Mr. Boehner’s retirement, Mr. McCarthy made his first, ultimately unsuccessful bid for the speakership. He lost that bid, choosing to remain as majority leader. Mr. Ryan, a dark horse pick, was elected speaker.
After Mr. Ryan’s exit from Congress in 2019, Mr. McCarthy served as minority leader until his election as speaker.
With Mr. McCarthy’s departure, it'll be up to California Gov. Gavin Newsom to call a special election for a successor. That election will almost certainly go in Republicans’ favor since the district Mr. McCarthy represents is a solidly GOP area in central California.
Mr. McCarthy’s announcement means that the GOP’s razor-thin majority in the House continues to dwindle, especially after lawmakers voted to expel former Rep. George Santos of New York last week. After Mr. McCarthy steps down, Republicans will only be able to afford three GOP defections to approve any party-line legislation.