WASHINGTON — Former speaker Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who made history as the first speaker to be ousted from the post, announced Wednesday that he would leave the House at the end of the year but said he planned to remain engaged in Republican politics.
McCarthy’s resignation, which he announced in an opinion essay in The Wall Street Journal, will bring to a close a 16-year stint in Congress in which he rose from a member of the self-proclaimed “Young Guns” — Republicans driving to build their party’s majority in the House — to the position second in line to the presidency.
It caps his spectacular downfall after just under nine months as speaker, when the right-wing forces that he and other establishment Republicans harnessed to power their political victories ultimately rose up and ran him out.
“I will continue to recruit our country’s best and brightest to run for elected office,” McCarthy said in announcing his plans in the Journal. “The Republican Party is expanding every day, and I am committed to lending my experience to support the next generation of leaders.”
McCarthy’s early exit, while not unexpected, creates a headache for his successor, Speaker Mike Johnson, who is struggling to run the House with a slim and dwindling majority.
Many lawmakers have already announced they will depart the House, citing historic dysfunction. And while many of those departing members have said they plan to serve out their current terms, those plans can often change quickly when job offers begin to materialize and a nice life outside Congress comes into focus.
McCarthy’s imminent departure, which he announced just days before California’s Dec. 8 filing deadline to run for reelection, will shrink the already slim Republican majority. The party’s margin in the House fell to three seats from four with the expulsion of Representative George Santos of New York last week.
That leaves almost no wiggle room for Johnson, who is already dealing with a revolt from the far-right for working with Democrats to keep the government funded and faces another pair of shutdown deadlines in mid-January and early February.
Governor Gavin Newsom of California will have 14 days after McCarthy’s final day to call a special election to fill the seat, and by state law, the election has to take place about four months later.
For McCarthy, who has struggled to adjust to life as a rank-and-file lawmaker, the early departure holds nothing but upside. Former members are banned for one year after leaving Congress from lobbying their former colleagues. By resigning this month, McCarthy can start the clock on that delay from what promises to be lucrative work in the private sector a year earlier than he would have been able to if he served out his term.
The end of his career in the House has been difficult for McCarthy to accept, friends and allies said. First elected to Congress in 2007, McCarthy was the party’s strongest fund-raiser in the House and spent two election cycles helping to build the Republican majority that ultimately rejected him as its leader.
The seeds of his demise were apparent from the moment McCarthy won the speakership in January after a historically long and ugly floor fight. Ever since that battle, when he agreed to rule changes demanded by hard-right lawmakers in exchange for their votes, McCarthy and his allies had anticipated that his speakership could end exactly the way it finally did. But McCarthy has been bitter about it nonetheless and was insistent until the end that he was simply ousted for doing the right thing and working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown.
He said as much in his opinion essay announcing his plans.
“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.”
McCarthy’s departure was celebrated by his detractors on both sides of the aisle.
“Kevin McCarthy represents everything that is wrong with congressional Republicans and bears much of the responsibility for the rise of the cult of MAGA and Trump,” Kyle Herrig, the executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, an advocacy group, said in a statement.
Herrig noted that McCarthy’s legacy included the decision to empower Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, one of the most extreme members in the House, and give former president Donald Trump a political “lifeline” after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, when McCarthy traveled to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to pay his respects.
Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, who led the charge to oust McCarthy, celebrated the news with a one-word post on social media: “McLeavin.’”
After he was removed from the speakership in October, McCarthy gave an inconclusive answer about whether he would remain in Congress.
“I’ll take a look at that,” he said then. Later, in an effort to bat down reports and rumors that he was leaving immediately, he told reporters that he was staying and even planned to run for reelection.
But his position as a rank-and-file member of the House alongside the Republicans who voted to remove him from power had grown untenable, and McCarthy found the experience to be incredibly painful. His closest allies on Capitol Hill have been anticipating his imminent departure for weeks, even as he has dodged questions about his future.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.