LOS ANGELES — Two months after his historic ouster as U.S. House speaker, Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that he is resigning and will leave Congress by the end of the year.
His announcement capped a stunning end to a House career for the onetime deli counter owner from Bakersfield, Calif., who ascended through state and national politics to become second in line to the presidency, until a cluster of hard-right conservatives engineered his removal in October.
McCarthy is the only speaker in history to be voted out of the job.
“No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing,” McCarthy wrote in The Wall Street Journal, announcing his decision. “It is in this spirit that I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways.”
Word about McCarthy’s future had been expected, days before the filing deadline to seek reelection to the House. But his decision ricocheted across Capitol Hill, where his departure will leave the already paper-thin House GOP majority even tighter, with just a few seats to spare.
It adds to a wave of retirements in both parties, as many members seek higher office or look to escape the partisan rancor that often paralyzes the chamber. Republicans have been split by infighting and the rare expulsion last week of indicted GOP Rep. George Santos of New York, dashing hopes for major accomplishments and leaving the majority straining to conduct the basic business of governing.
It’s also the end of an era for a generation of House Republicans led by McCarthy and former Reps. Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, the so-called “Young Guns” whose book of the same title outlined a new style of GOP governance. Ryan and Cantor are gone, and McCarthy will soon exit.
McCarthy had brought the Republicans into the majority but found it was much more difficult to lead the GOP’s factions.
His toppling from the speaker’s post was fueled by grievances from his party’s hard-right flank, including over his decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown.
House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a Republican who succeeded McCarthy as speaker, tweeted that McCarthy “served faithfully and sacrificed substantially for the good of our country and our cause.”
Speaking later with reporters, Johnson called McCarthy a “long and trusted friend” and said he was “sad to see him go.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who led the effort to remove McCarthy, tweeted a one-word response after his announcement: “McLeavin.”
He later chastised McCarthy, whose departure will further narrow the GOP’s fragile hold on power. “I think he should have stuck around and helped us hold a strong majority,” Gaetz told reporters. “But he left.”
McCarthy, 58, arrived in the House in January 2007 after a stint in the California Assembly, where he was minority leader. In Congress, he maneuvered through his party’s hierarchy before being elected speaker in January.
The dayslong floor fight that preceded his elevation to the House’s top job foreshadowed a stormy tenure, at a time when former President Donald Trump remained the de facto leader of the party and deep divisions within the GOP raised serious questions about the party’s ability to govern.