What led up to the end of Kevin McCarthy's reign as House Speaker? Here's a timeline of events

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1. A rocky start… 

It wasn’t an easy start to 2023 for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Even before the 118th Congress convened on Jan. 3., opposition for the California lawmaker started to brew when he faced a hint of opposition from several ultraconservative GOP lawmakers during the selection process for GOP leader last fall.

Several within the party wondered whether they should ditch McCarthy after a poor showing by Republicans in the midterms that halted an anticipated “red wave” and resulted in a slim five-seat majority.

Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, challenged McCarthy in the race to serve as GOP leader, but McCarthy ultimately won in a closed-door meeting among the conference.

2. “Groundhog Day” 

Then came the vote for speaker – what ended up as “Groundhog Day” for McCarthy who continued to lose ballot after ballot.

The California lawmaker was unable to secure the votes needed to win the speakership because of opposition from the same ultraconservative faction in the Republican caucus.

A group of 20 detractors refused to cast their ballot in support of McCarthy, instead voting for others like Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Biggs.

3. Concessions, concessions, concessions

McCarthy began making closed-door concessions with members of his party in an attempt to convince those who voted against him.

Several concessions included legislation on border security, congressional term limits, key committee assignments for the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus members, a rule that allowed open debate, the option for a marathon of amendments on government funding measures and one critical House rule change that would come back to haunt him – the power for a single member to call for a vote to oust the speaker.

The concessions worked and McCarthy persuaded some of the ultra-conservative detractors to change their vote.

4. 15th time’s a charm

McCarthy survived one of the longest and most chaotic speaker elections since the Civil War.

He won the speakership during the 15th round of votes on the two-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“My father always told me, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and now we need to finish strong for the American people,” McCarthy said at the time.

5. McCarthy’s debt ceiling debacle 

Hardline Republicans’ frustration grew during McCarthy’s tenure as speaker with one sticking point during his debt ceiling negotiations with President Joe Biden.

The far-right claim McCarthy failed to negotiate to leverage spending cuts and reforms. The faction of the party were unhappy with the deal McCarthy made, which raises the debt limit on how much the government can borrow until 2025. It also caps annual discretionary spending for two years, keeping non-defense spending levels flat next year and raising it by 1% in 2025.

But that wasn’t enough for hardline conservatives who were unhappy with McCarthy’s compromise. Members of the House Freedom Caucus denounced the plan and lambasted McCarthy for agreeing to a compromise they claim didn’t go far enough to cut spending. They said it marked a "betrayal" of his commitment to their caucus.

Then came one of the first pushes to oust the speaker, with House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C, telling reporters he would consider bringing the motion to vacate to the floor over the debt ceiling deal.

6. Averting a government shutdown 

One of the final sticking points for ultra-conservatives was McCarthy’s handling of the appropriations process ahead of a potential government shutdown.

With government funding levels set to expire on Sept. 30 and zero spending bills passed in the lower chamber, McCarthy ultimately decided to bring a continuing resolution, or stopgap measure, to the House floor for a vote that would extend government funding to mid-November.

Hardline conservatives and members of the Freedom Caucus were adamant that McCarthy hold votes on 12 separate funding bills and were not afraid of a government shutdown if necessary.

The stopgap measure only passed in the lower chamber because it garnered Democratic support.

Rep. Bob Good of Virginia Tuesday said McCarthy didn’t keep his promise of bringing 12 spending bills to the floor individually or presenting a balanced budget on the House floor.

“Republicans needed the speaker to cast the vision, request the support of the entire conference… to lead us in joining him, sticking with him, supporting him and sending the most conservative spending bills with the most conservative costs possible to the Senate,” Good said on the House floor Tuesday.

7. Gaetz comes into action, threatens McCarthy over speakership

Just days after averting a shutdown however, McCarthy was faced with another threat - and this time from within his own party.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., introduced a motion to vacate on Monday that would remove McCarthy from his position as speaker.

Earlier this month, Gaetz cited several reasons for why McCarthy should be ousted, such as not holding votes on issues like term limits for lawmakers or releasing the full security tapes from the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

But tensions between the two lawmakers reached their peak after Gaetz had pressured McCarthy not to work with Democrats to avert a shutdown, which the former speaker ended up doing anyway.

After he had introduced his motion, McCarthy responded in a succinct tweet, “Bring it on,” to which Gaetz replied, “I just did.”

The question at that point was how many Republicans and Democrats would support the move. Gaetz was joined by several members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus to push out McCarthy, such as Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.

Meanwhile, Democrats held their own closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss their strategy on whether to bail out McCarthy.

8. McCarthy is ousted as speaker for the first time in history

McCarthy’s reign as speaker came to an end fast.

Before the vote to oust him took place, Republicans were embroiled in contentious debates on the House floor - with some defending the former speaker and others criticizing him.

Gaetz argued that the impeachment inquiry McCarthy launched into President Joe Biden was “failure theater.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., chair of the House Rules Committee, said McCarthy did the right thing by averting a shutdown.

But in any case, eight Republicans and 208 Democrats voted to oust him.

The list of eight includes Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee, Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Rep. Bob Good of Virginia, Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina and Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana.

Gaetz told reporters after the vote that “it’s the benefit of this country that we have a better speaker of the House than Kevin McCarthy.”

9. McCarthy announces he won’t run again 

McCarthy, who served as speaker for 269 days, said in a press conference Tuesday he leaves his position with a sense of pride, accomplishment and optimism, and that he doesn’t regret standing up for “choosing governance over grievance.”

However, he also said that he won’t run for speaker again.

“I believe I can continue to fight, maybe in a different manner,” McCarthy said.

He said he doesn’t think he needs to be a speaker to serve the American people, and added that there is a “real institutional problem” in the House.

“Everybody sitting there, in today’s world, if you’re sitting in Congress and you took a gamble and you took a gamble to make sure the government was still open and eight people can throw you out as speaker and the Democrats who said they wanted to keep the government open, I think you’ve got a real divide,” McCarthy said. “I think you’ve got a real institutional problem.”

His advice for the next speaker? Change the rules.

10. House seeks new speaker 

McCarthy had provided a succession list to the House Clerk earlier this year in case his seat became vacant. As for now, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, was chosen to be acting House speaker from that list.

But the House’s biggest task is to find a new speaker. Some lawmakers are already eyeing the top spot.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, was the first to announce his bid for speaker. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., also announced his intentions to run on Wednesday, noting in a letter to his GOP colleagues that “This next chapter won’t be easy, but I know what it takes to fight and I am prepared for the battles that lie ahead.”

Others say Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Florida, whose names was tossed out in January, could once again emerge as a nominee. Some conservatives have also floated former President Donald Trump, who is running for the 2024 presidential race. Trump said he would travel to Capitol Hill next week and plans to meet GOP lawmakers, adding that he would be open to accepting the job on a short-term basis if Republicans deadlock.

Contributing: Ken Tran

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The defining moments that led up to Kevin McCarthy's removal as House Speaker