With Kevin McCarthy officially out as Speaker of the House, the Republican Party now needs to choose a new leader. But so far no one has put themselves forward, and McCarthy took himself out of the running on Tuesday evening, plunging Congress into a state of uncertainty and chaos with government funding set to expire in just over a month.
“They don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry and chaotic,” McCarthy said during a press conference Tuesday night of the eight Republicans who voted to oust him. “They are not conservatives and they do not have the right to have the title.”
In the meantime, Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina has been tapped to serve as acting speaker, a temporary position, as designated by McCarthy’s succession list submitted in January. He presided over the chamber briefly before calling a recess to allow Republicans and Democrats to meet privately.
Flanked by his new security detail, McHenry told TIME before walking into a meeting with Republicans: “It’s a lot… But I’m doing fine.”
With no clear path forward, many Republicans left the Capitol shortly after the vote on the motion to vacate and prepared to return to their districts for the next week. Republican lawmakers said after the meeting that the House will recess until Oct. 10, and then hold a speaker candidate forum that day before voting for a permanent speaker on Oct. 11. The decision to delay the vote by eight days irked some Republicans, including Florida Rep. Cory Mills, who said in a statement, “What we should NOT be doing is going home or adjourning as we still have work to do.”
With the duration of McHenry’s role as acting speaker uncertain, the House is essentially in a holding pattern. The appropriations bills that Congress needs to pass before Nov. 17 to avoid a government shutdown will likely face more delays, as will the federal aid to Ukraine that President Joe Biden has requested.
House lawmakers now find themselves in uncharted territory, with McCarthy becoming the first Speaker in U.S. history to be stripped of the gavel. “It’s incredibly unfortunate that we’re in this situation,” Rep. Pete Aguilar, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, told TIME immediately after the vote, vowing to support Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to be the next Speaker despite not having enough votes in the Republican-led House.
But the removal of McCarthy also underscores the deep divisions within the Republican Party and raises questions about its future leadership. The House could move swiftly to elect a new Speaker, or the process could be delayed while Republicans regroup and seek a consensus candidate. In January, it took 15 rounds of voting across four days for McCarthy to gather enough support for the gavel, and a similar process could play out again if Republican hardliners push for concessions.
“If this motion carries, the House will be paralyzed,” Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, said in remarks on the House floor. “We can expect week after week of fruitless ballots while no other business can be conducted.”
Already, several Republicans have emerged as potential successors to McCarthy, including Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma. Even former President Donald Trump’s name has been floated by Texas Rep. Troy Nehls (the Speaker technically does not need to be a member of the House). But none have yet come forward to say they want the job.
Asked about a possible run for the position, Scalise, the Republican Majority Leader, did not rule it out to reporters: “I enjoy working with Tom [Emmer] and our leadership team, and we have a lot of work to get done. But I haven’t made any formal announcements.” Scalise is currently battling blood cancer and undergoing treatment, but he told TIME on Tuesday night that he’s “feeling fine.” Emmer, the majority whip and a close McCarthy ally, has indicated that he would back Scalise. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who led the vote to topple McCarthy, has also floated Scalise’s name as a potential replacement. Jordan, a Freedom Caucus co-founder who was against the idea of kicking McCarthy out of the speakership, received an endorsement from Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie on Tuesday evening.
McCarthy told reporters he might endorse someone to succeed him, but did not share who he thinks it should be. He also said that he “hasn’t thought about” resigning from Congress despite the attacks from several members of his party.
There could be further drama in the coming days as a separate movement gathers steam: some Republicans have suggested expelling Gaetz, an idea that Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker in the 1990s, supports. “It was personal,” McCarthy said of Gaetz’s move.
While McCarthy claimed he maintains “optimism” about the future, he said he had a piece of advice for the next Speaker: “Change the rules.”