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How McCarthy's removal as speaker will impact the White House

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Let's go now to Capitol Hill where California Congressman Kevin McCarthy is speaking.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SUMMERS: This is live Special Coverage from NPR News. I'm Juana Summers. We've been listening to California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy. Hours ago, in a historic vote, a small faction of Republicans, along with most Democrats, voted to oust him as speaker of the House. He's taking some questions now, so we may jump back into that in a little bit, but we're going to talk about what we've just heard. With us are Leon Panetta, who has held several jobs in government, including White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration and a one-time member of the House of Representatives. We're also joined by NPR political correspondent Susan Davis.

And Leon Panetta, I want to start with you. Briefly, just give us your reaction to what's happened today and what we've heard from former Speaker Kevin McCarthy just now.

LEON PANETTA: Well, yes, I think what you heard is kind of the nice-guy McCarthy. And he is a nice guy. He's someone who obviously had good relationships with a number of members. But the tragedy here is that, despite the fact that he was a nice guy, he was a failed leader. And the reason he failed is because, too often, he capitulated to his opponents and ultimately lost his credibility and his trust as a result of that in the hope that ultimately his opponents would somehow be loyal to him. I think, in doing that, he really undermined his credibility as speaker, and that cost him today.

SUMMERS: Sue Davis, I want to bring you in here. I know that you have covered Congressman McCarthy for some time as he ascended to the speakership. What did you hear here? And help us understand how we got to this point.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: We got to this part because Kevin McCarthy negotiated himself into this position. Kevin McCarthy would not have been here today if he had not agreed to change the rules of the House to allow just one member to offer a motion to remove him from the speakership. When Democrats controlled the House, they changed the rule so it would require a much bigger consensus. I believe a majority of one party would have to sign onto this, and it was meant to create stability in the House. I think it was very clearly on display today why they changed that rule. It was interesting to me that Kevin McCarthy, in his speech, made reference to the rule that he allowed to pass, saying it was a bad idea, and maybe I'm the only one who thinks so.

SUMMERS: Right.

DAVIS: Bit of a head-scratcher of a moment for me, quite frankly, because this is something that he gave away in order to get the gavel. So many of Kevin McCarthy's problems as speaker is because he tried time and time and time again to keep the hard right on board - to keep these fringe crew of lawmakers on his side. And at a certain point, it became pretty clear that they were just bent on forcing him out. And it did allow, as he noted, just 4% of Republicans and all Democrats to remove the speaker of the House today. We heard Kevin McCarthy say that he does not plan to run for speaker again. Leon Panetta, I'm curious - you have served in a number of roles across government. Did you ever think you would see a scenario in which the House has voted to remove its speaker? And at this point, there's not really an obvious Republican who could step up and lead this conference.

PANETTA: No, that's why today is an historic day. But it's also a sad day because I think it just adds to what we've seen these last few years in the undermining of the institutions of our democracy. So much has been tested now. We've had presidents who ignore the Constitution and the rule of law. We have a judiciary where people are concerned that they abide by politics rather than the law. And now we have a Congress that has gotten rid of its speaker. I often say that, in a democracy, we govern either by leadership or by crisis, and too often we've been governing by crisis. And I think Speaker McCarthy paid the price for not showing stronger leadership.

DAVIS: One of - the House did decide tonight that they are going to essentially adjourn until next week. The plan now is to have a lawmaker forum this coming Tuesday and potentially a vote on - the next vote for possible House speaker won't occur until Wednesday. A lot of movement in the Capitol this evening - at least one senior Republican, majority whip Tom Emmer - he's the No. 3 Republican - he said he indicated to reporters he would not run or allow himself to be nominated. He said that he believes Steve Scalise, the majority leader, would be a good speaker. I spoke to Steve Scalise coming out of this meeting. He said he did not have an immediate comment to make, but did sound like a man who is considering running for speaker. He said the conference needed to stay together, that the challenges of a narrow majority were real, and he believed that there were ways to work together. We should note that Steve Scalise, the majority leader, also currently has blood cancer. He was asked if he believed his health would allow him to serve in the role, and he just said, I feel great - before stepping into an elevator.

SUMMERS: We've got about a minute left here, so I want to put this question to each of you - quick answers only. This stands out as another moment that demonstrates how a small number of lawmakers can wield outsized influence. What does this moment tell us about the ability in this country to govern long term? Mr. Panetta, you first.

PANETTA: I think it raises questions about our ability to govern, and the dysfunction in Washington really kind of sends a message that our democracy has had some real problems lately.

DAVIS: I would add that I don't think that this is a both-sides problem. This is not a problem that Democrats were presented with. I think Republicans, especially in their specific party - in their fringe right, there is always going to be an element that wants to be anti-establishment, to vote out the leadership. For a small fraction of the party, it is very good politics to take these kind of extreme actions - and that it does not equate on the left.

SUMMERS: Just to recap here, we have been listening to California Republican Kevin McCarthy, who - hours ago, a small faction of Republicans, along with most Democrats, voted to oust him as speaker of the House. I'm Juana Summers. You have been listening to live Special Coverage from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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