The Republicans have a slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last year, eight Republican Congressmen filed a motion to vacate the Speakership,which succeeded, because the former (Republican) Speaker Kevin McCarthy had lost his majority. Then the Republican-led Congress went through several candidates before settling on Mike Johnson.

Even though they had too few votes to elect their own Hakeem Jeffries, the Democrats (or a few of them) could have voted to save McCarthy. In failing to do so, did they have a plan (perhaps an unsuccessful one) to get a Speaker more to their liking? Did they make a political calculation to let the Republicans fight it out among themselves? Or did things get out of hand so that the final result was "random?"

Put another way, is Mike Johnson more acceptable to the Democrats than Kevin McCarthy, and if so, how? Was this because of policy (e.g. "moderation" or lack thereof) or other grounds? Or was the final result a matter of "potluck?" Would it have made sense for the Democrats to have supported Tom Emmers or one of the numerous other candidates, or were they call comparably "bad" from the Democrats' point of view.

Note: The answers have alluded to "style" rather than "policy" reasons for the Democrats letting McCarthy fall.


5 Answers 5


The Democrats did not have a plan, exactly, they merely wanted a Speaker who would be willing to work with them (to some extent) so that the House could pass somewhat bipartisan bills. McCarthy has proven over and again that he would not willingly work with the Democrats, so there's no reason the Democrats would support him. There were two possible options the Democrats were looking for:

  • For Republicans to put up a candidate who would not shut Democrats out, or…
  • For a few Republicans to get tired of the nonsense and cross the aisle to support Jeffries

Either outcome would have left the GOP with majority control and a functioning bipartisan body, but the GOP never offered either. It's not the Democrats' responsibility to appease GOP dysfunctions.

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    I think it may be worth noting that in the absence of reaching either of their goals, letting their opponents show how disunited they were was probably a savvy move too. Hence, even if they knew they could not achieve either goal, they had no reason to help their opponents save face. Feb 5 at 10:32
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    @MatthieuM.: Correct. One of the cardinal rules of politics: never stop your opponent from shooting themselves in the foot. Feb 5 at 10:39
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    It wasn't just that he proved that he wasn't willing to work with them but he was willing to break the deals that he did make with them in order to attempt to save his own job.
    – Joe W
    Feb 5 at 13:33
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    Didn't the Republicans turn on McCarthy because he worked with the Democrats?
    – Barmar
    Feb 5 at 15:04
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    @Barmar McCarthy's detractors in the Republican party called it that, but what he actually did was to pass a funding bill supported by a majority of the Republican caucus (but opposed by the House Freedom Caucus) with some Democratic votes to make up the missing votes from the HFC voting against.
    – Nobody
    Feb 5 at 15:17

It wasn't as much as them allowing him to be removed but refusing to back him after he backed out of deals with them in order to try and save his position. If he was willing to back out of deals to save his position once it should be expected that he would be willing to do it again in the future. Because of this lack of trust that he brought on himself they had no reason to support him.

It should be noted that he was not willing to make any deals to try and get them on his side after that either.

Schumer: McCarthy went ‘back on his word’ in spending deal with Biden

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday accused Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) of going “back on his word” by abandoning the funding levels he agreed to when he and President Biden struck a deal to raise the debt limit.

“Remember, bipartisan majorities agreed to funding levels back in June. The leaders of the House, the Senate, the White House, we all shook hands on this deal, but now the Speaker, and only the Speaker, is going back on his word,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

As a result, Schumer argued, “Speaker McCarthy has made a shutdown far more likely.”

“Despite the fact that here in the Senate we’re pursuing bipartisanship, the Speaker has chosen to elevate the whims and desires of a handful of hard-right extremists and has nothing to show for it,” Schumer said.

Biden and McCarthy agreed in May to set the nondefense and defense discretionary spending cap at $1.59 trillion, but the Speaker is preparing to move a House GOP-drafted continuing resolution that would be more in line with the $1.47 trillion spending top line demanded by members of the House Freedom Caucus.


The calculation was quite simple. Random would not be worse than McCarthy. McCarthy refused to work with Democrats in any form. Sure, it was his prerogative, but it also means Democrats had not the slightest reason to support him. Worst it could happen after removal was to have someone just like him. Democrats could only win or draw by not saving him. That was the plan.

  • It's a pity but bipartisan agreements seem a bit like a thing from the past. Let's one wonder how on earth people of the last century managed to actually work together and respect each other. A miracle. Feb 5 at 21:02
  • But it wouldn't be "random", right? It would likely be someone more conservative, because by supporting the removal of the speaker, they gave leverage to only a handful of ultra-conservatives to control who the speaker is.
    – user102008
    Feb 7 at 18:03

I think you are looking at this the wrong way. Matt Gaetz decided he was going to take down McCarthy as a part of a personal vendetta (or perhaps hoping to halt or delay an ethics investigation which is apparently still ongoing.) This was followed by an extraordinary performance of dysfunction as the GOP House members struggled to select a new leader. A comical and embarrassing episode which received a lot of press. I imagine the Democrats expected something along those lines to happen.

From the minority perspective, what's not to like about that result? There was no real chance that a GOP member willing to work with them was going to be selected. They sat back and watched the deck chairs being rearranged on the Titanic. I suspect it was just as amusing to most minority members as it was to Democrats in general.

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    The better answer, IMHO. The "plans" to get rid of a Speaker they disliked were not "plans" as the Dems had limited influence on who would get chosen as a replacement, given that they voted for "their guy" instead so had no leverage. They knew they would embarrass the Reps - which came true - but neglected to think through whether the Reps were more likely to pick more moderate Speaker or a less moderate one at the end of the process. Feb 5 at 20:27
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Do you think they neglected to consider it or that it was a 'the devil we know versus the devil we don't know' calculation with a moot result.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 5 at 20:35
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    I get the impression they, and their base, were happy to vent off steam, without thinking it through overmuch (just like they didn't think through immigration reform overmuch). And, like Republicans, completely allergic to compromise. My answer to the duplicate question basically consisted of stating that they would likely come to regret it because it would by be unlikely to lessen the grips extremists (Mr waste-of-oxygen Gaetz) have on the Republican party. Feb 5 at 20:40
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I see where you are coming from but I'm not sure the current speaker hurts them much. No real compromise before and none now. Also, the new guy is talking about how the bible is literally true and more important than the US constitution. That might kind of rhetoric plays well in areas where there's exactly zero chance of them picking up seats but not really well in places where they might.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 5 at 20:43
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    I think Johnson is considerably more of a Ukraine skeptic than McCarthy and Johnson has basically decided to embarrass Biden at the border rather than try to fix illegal immigration, even if that means lots of illegal immigration meanwhile. That last bit could hurt the Dems massively by November, though I can't say how McCarthy would have acted. Johnson is the Rep hardcore's creature, not the mainstream Rep's (if there is such a thing left). That's how he got the job, being acceptable enough to the hardcore to gather enough votes from only Reps. In cloud-cuckoo-land McCarthy was "too soft" Feb 5 at 20:46

Congress works via bipartisanship and compromise. Kevin McCarthy was not willing to engage in bipartisanship and compromise and had not sought out the Democrats to even discuss bipartisanship, so he had no chance of getting any Democratic support.

While our media suggests that politicians are playing 4D chess to anticipate and out-maneuver their opponents, politicians are just humans. The Democrats did not have, nor did they need to have a complex strategy for how to turn the GOP's utter inability to do their jobs into a material benefit for the Democrats. It's enough to say that a party that subverts and perverts the cooperative intentions of the Founding Fathers should not receive support from anyone who cares about our form of democracy.

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    McCarthy did work with dems to pass the legislation to avoid a shutdown, and then went on Sunday news and blamed the shutdown on them anyway. So not only did he have no chance of support, he actively worked against it. It was a baffling move for someone who thought he knew the politics game
    – GammaGames
    Feb 5 at 15:37
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    Perhaps a healthy Congress works via bipartisanship and compromise, but in that case the U.S. has not had a healthy Congress in decades, under either party. Feb 5 at 16:01

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