Republicans flank Kevin McCarthy as he talks to journalists at the Capitol

What happens next if Kevin McCarthy is ousted as Speaker of the House

WASHINGTON — The House will vote Tuesday on Rep. Matt Gaetz’s resolution to oust Kevin McCarthy from the speaker’s chair. If Gaetz’s effort is successful, McCarthy would lose his hold of the gavel.

Follow along for live updates.

What happens next?

What’s next as Gaetz moves to oust McCarthy?

Oct. 3, 202305:08

First, a temporary speaker would take over

If a majority of the House votes to adopt Gaetz’s resolution, the Office of the Speaker would be declared vacant. This would not immediately trigger a new speaker election, however, because of a succession list McCarthy, R-Calif., submitted to the House clerk in January. That list isn’t public.

Since 2003, House rules have required the speaker to submit a list of names to the clerk of members to act in the case of his or her vacancy. According to Rule I, clause 8 of the House rules, the next person on that list “shall act as Speaker pro tempore until the election of a Speaker or a Speaker pro tempore.” So whoever is first on McCarthy’s list would take over as speaker in an acting capacity.

This would be a different situation than in January, when the House started a new session and could not start any legislative business until a speaker was elected. Because it was the beginning of a new Congress, the House needed to elect a speaker in order to swear in members and pass the rules package. If McCarthy is ousted now, the new acting speaker pro tempore would take the gavel for the short term. An election for a permanent speaker could be delayed until the House was prepared to move forward.

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The House would be in uncharted territory

If the motion to vacate is successful, it would be the first time in U.S. history that a speaker of the House has ever been voted out of office.

Kevin McCarthy ascends a staircase in the CapitolSpeaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. Drew Angerer / Getty Images file

In 1910, Speaker Joseph Cannon, R-Ill., offered a motion to oust himself to put his detractors on the record. Republicans voted overwhelmingly to keep him in office. “Cannon, Shorn of His Power, Keeps Office,” read the New York Times headline the next day.

A speaker pro tempore taking the gavel after McCarthy’s ouster would be in untested waters.

The acting speaker would likely not have the same powers as the speaker since “the intention was for them to act in a short-term capacity while the House selected a new speaker,” said Catholic University professor Matthew Green, author of “The Speaker of the House: A Study of Leadership.”

How quickly could the House move to elect a permanent speaker?

House rules do not lay out how long the speaker pro tempore can remain in power before the chamber votes on a new permanent speaker.

The House could proceed directly to the election of a new speaker or decide to hold it at a later time.

“In the event of a vacancy in the speakership, there is no time frame that the House must follow to elect a new speaker,” Green said. “However, as a practical matter, the House will want to elect a new speaker quickly in order for the chamber to move forward with its legislative business.”

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthyMcCarthy addresses reporters at the Capitol on July 19.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

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Who would be McCarthy’s temporary replacement?

The short answer is: We don’t know, but there are some hints.

On Jan. 9, the House chair announced “that the Speaker has delivered to the Clerk a letter dated January 7, 2023, listing Members in the order in which each shall act as Speaker pro tempore.” Essentially McCarthy gave a list of names of members he would want to act in his absence if he was no longer able to serve. These names are not public, so there is no way to know who is on the list until the speakership is vacant.

Separately in January, McCarthy also appointed members to act as speaker pro tempore to sign enrolled bills. These names were made public in the Congressional Record, offering a look at who McCarthy trusts in his absence. But it is important to note, this is not the list that would be consulted in the case of a vacancy.

McCarthy chose Reps. Patrick McHenry and Richard Hudson of North Carolina; Rep. Adrian Smith, of Nebraska; Rep. Robert Wittman, of Virginia; Rep. Andy Harris, of Maryland; and Reps. John Joyce and Guy Reschenthaler, of Pennsylvania to act as speaker pro tempore to sign enrolled bills. These members are typically chosen mostly for one of two reasons: because they are allies of the speaker’s or because of their districts’ proximity to Washington, so they can preside over pro forma sessions when the House is out.

Kyle Stewart

Kyle Stewart is an associate producer covering Congress for NBC News.