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What Kevin McCarthy's retirement could mean for Republicans in Congress

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

California Republican Kevin McCarthy is the only speaker of the House in U.S. history to have been removed in a vote by his colleagues. And today, he announced he's quitting Congress.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: While I'll be departing the House at the end of this year, I will never, ever give up fighting for this country that I love so much. To all those who have supported me through the years, especially our constituents, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel has this look at his legacy and the political consequences of his exit.

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: Kevin McCarthy's decision to quit comes at a time Republicans are facing a lot of pressure. Without McCarthy, Republicans will start next year with just a three-vote majority. But it's clear the Californian is ready to go and has been since the October day that members of his party forced him from the speakership.

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MCCARTHY: My fear is the institution fell today. You have 96% of your entire conference, but eight people can partner with the whole other side. How do you govern?

MCDANIEL: McCarthy began his time in Congress as a self-described young gun, part of a trio of fresh-faced conservatives who wanted to usher in a new moment of fiscal conservatism. They also helped to elect a wave of Tea Party firebrands in the 2010 Republican wave. But many of the lawmakers who McCarthy helped to totally reshape his party, they became the biggest obstacle for him and the Republican leaders who came before him. In fact, hardliners nearly blocked his rise to the speakership at all. It took McCarthy a historic 15 votes to secure the gavel.

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CHERYL JOHNSON: The honorable Kevin McCarthy of the state of California has received 201. No member-elect having received the majority of the votes cast, a speaker has not been elected.

MCDANIEL: And in the end, a concession he made during that fight became his undoing - a rule change to allow any member to introduce a motion to vacate. It allowed members frustrated by what they said were repeated equivocations and deceptions by McCarthy to fire him. Here's Matt Gaetz of Florida.

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MATT GAETZ: The one thing that the White House, House Democrats and many of us on the conservative side of the Republican caucus would argue is that the thing we have in common - Kevin McCarthy said something to all of us that he didn't really mean and never intended to live up to.

MCDANIEL: Now, his abrupt exit from Washington raises the stakes of the Republican divisions he helped to sow and leaves his successor, Mike Johnson, with virtually no margin for error in exactly the sort of government shutdown fight that preceded McCarthy's own demise.

Eric McDaniel, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.