When Speaker Kevin McCarthy failed to keep his leadership post, his 269-day speakership became the shortest in more than 140 years.
In a historic move, the US House of Representatives voted Tuesday to oust McCarthy as speaker. The House will now need to elect a new speaker, but there is no clear alternative who would have the support needed to win the gavel – and McCarthy said Tuesday night he will not try for the speakership again.
The only two congressmen whose speakerships lasted fewer days than McCarthy’s are Michael Kerr – who died in office in 1876 – and Theodore Pomeroy – who served for only the last day of the 40th Congress, in 1869. The last two House speakers, Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan, served for 2918 and 1162 days by comparison, respectively.
House members typically vote for a speaker on the first day of each new Congress. Seven previous members of Congress served single speakership terms shorter than McCarthy’s, which ended by resignation or dying in office. But those speakers served when their party was in leadership in other Congresses and ultimately had longer cumulative speakerships.
No House speaker has served for less than a year in total since 1876.
House speakerships have grown longer on average since the 1800s, when the modern two-party political system was still being established. A House speaker has stayed in power for an average of roughly 638 days since 2001, compared to 459 days during the 19th Century.
But McCarthy faced uniquely tough challenges as the leader of the 118th Congress. His four-seat Republican majority, tied with two other time periods for the fifth-smallest in history, left him vulnerable to pressure from hardline conservatives in his party. Winning the speaker’s gavel ultimately required concessions that have now backfired, such as restoring the ability of a single member to trigger a vote to expel a speaker by a simple majority.
Now, Republican and frequent McCarthy critic Rep. Matt Gaetz has forced a successful vote to vacate the chair on the House floor. The vote came after McCarthy worked with Democrats to pass a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown, and it sets up another fight for the gavel.