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House vote to oust McCarthy could mean 'weeks' of chaos and higher odds of shutdown

A small group of far-right Republicans responded to last weekend’s shutdown deal by ousting House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday, the first time a lawmaker revolt has successfully ousted a House speaker in American history.

"The office of speaker of the House ... is hereby declared vacant," announced Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.).

The effort was led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who voted yes on the resolution and was joined in the effort by seven additional Republicans and 210 House Democrats to cap a raucous day on Capitol Hill. The historic maneuver — formally known as vacating the chair — hadn't been tried in over 100 years.

As the debate dragged on Tuesday afternoon and the outcome became increasingly clear, lawmakers predicted an extended wave of government dysfunction in the days and weeks ahead.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) perhaps put it most succinctly when he predicted that "the House will be paralyzed, we can expect week after week of fruitless ballots while no other business can be conducted."

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 03: Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is surrounded by staff, security and journalists as he walks to the House Chamber ahead of a vote at the U.S. Capitol on October 03, 2023 in Washington, DC. McCarthy's speakership is being challenged by a handful of conservative members of his own party lead by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) following a deal to keep the federal government from partially shutting down over the weekend. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy was surrounded as he walked to the House Chamber on Oct. 3. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)

Economic observers also pointed out that the likely gridlock to come could have economic consequences and is perhaps the last thing needed with a new government shutdown deadline looming in just weeks.

"Markets might react negatively to government dysfunction," noted Stifel chief Washington policy strategist Brian Gardner of the possible immediate market impact. Tuesday's vote finished up in the late afternoon after markets had closed for the day.

"We’ve never seen anything like this," added Greg Valliere, chief US policy strategist of AGF Investments, in a note to clients Tuesday morning before the vote.

For now Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) is the House's speaker pro tempore and is temporarily in charge until lawmakers can pick a new speaker.

Increased chances of a government shutdown

The chaos also appears likely to increase the odds of a government shutdown next month.

Perhaps Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) was the most blunt, reportedly saying behind closed doors in a meeting of Republicans before the vote that "if we vacate the chair, the government will shut down," according to a report in the New York Times.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Smith added in a statement that the chaos could weaken the GOP negotiating position in the fights to come, saying "today’s actions actually empower those who want to increase spending and those who want to give a blank check to Ukraine."

Lawmakers have until Nov. 17 to search for another government spending compromise following last weekend's deal. That 71-page measure passed the House by an overwhelming 335-91 vote with 90 Republicans and 1 Democrat voting no. It extended the government shutdown deadline, provided $16 billion for disaster relief, and reauthorized the FAA through the end of the year.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 3: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks to reporters as he leaves the U.S. Capitol after U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was ousted form his position, October 3, 2023 in Washington, DC. McCarthy was removed by a motion to vacate, an effort led by a handful of conservative members of his own party, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) speaks to reporters as he leaves the US Capitol after Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy was ousted from his position. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (Drew Angerer via Getty Images)

But for now, Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) notes that work in the House to head off a shutdown will likely be stopped. The wrangling to come, she said, "will put this House in a stalemate and paralyze our ability to fight for our constituents and instead create a fight amongst one another."

"We have 43 days to restore fiscal responsibility," she added in a reference to the new government shutdown deadline.

This post has been updated with additional developments.

Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.

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