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Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy to retire at the end of the month

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says he will retire from Congress at the end of 2023, leaving just weeks left in his term in office.
J. Scott Applewhite
Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says he will retire from Congress at the end of 2023, leaving just weeks left in his term in office.

Updated December 6, 2023 at 12:06 PM ET

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says he will retire from the House of Representatives at the end of this year, departing before the end of his term.

McCarthy announced his plans in an essay published in the Wall Street Journal.

"No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing," McCarthy wrote. "That may seem out of fashion in Washington these days, but delivering results for the American people is still celebrated across the country. 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. I know my work is only getting started."

McCarthy was removed as speaker earlier this year in a rare vote of the House on a Motion to Vacate the Chair. His ouster led to a three-week debacle where Washington was paralyzed as the House was unable to function as the Republican conference struggled to reach consensus on a new leader.

McCarthy's departure shrinks the Republican majority and could increase the chances of a government shutdown

With McCarthy's resignation and the recent ouster of Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., Speaker Mike Johnson's wafer-thin majority continues to shrink.

Republicans will have just a three-vote majority to pass key legislation after McCarthy's departure, including two government funding deadlines.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday that the state will hold a special election to fill Santos' seat on Feb. 13, 2024. California will also need to hold a special election to replace McCarthy, a process that could take weeks.

The vacancies put huge pressure on House leaders who already struggled to pass partisan legislation, with key appropriations bills either failing or being pulled from consideration because of a lack of GOP support.

The fractious nature of the conference forced Johnson, after days of searching for an alternative, to rely on Democratic votes to keep the government funded through the new year — frustrating party hardliners and mirroring the decision that cost McCarthy his speakership.

Now, unless Republicans manage to overcome their so-far intractable differences, McCarthy's departure could force Johnson to yet again rely on Democrats to advance must-pass legislation.

Congress must approve new spending authority twice in the coming months, the first deadline is in just over six weeks when the first set of funding bills run out on Jan. 19. The remaining spending bills run out on Feb. 2.

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Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.
Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.