Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he will not seek the Speaker’s gavel again after being removed from the position on Tuesday, a stunning decision that capped off a historic day on Capitol Hill.

“From the day I entered politics, my initial mission has always been to make tomorrow better than today. I fought for what I believe in, and I believe in this country of America,” McCarthy said in a press conference. “My goals have not changed. My ability to fight is just in a different form.”

“Unfortunately, 4 percent of our conference can join all the Democrats and dictate who can be the Republican Speaker in this House,” McCarthy continued. “I don’t think that room is good for the institution, but apparently I’m the only one. I believe I can continue to fight, maybe in a different manner. I will not run for Speaker again. I’ll have the conference pick somebody else.”

McCarthy first informed members of his conference Tuesday night that he would not run again in a closed-door meeting, multiple lawmakers told The Hill, before later addressing the press. 

“Everybody was kind of stunned,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) told reporters.

The announcement came hours after the House voted to oust McCarthy as Speaker in a 216-210 vote, marking the first time in history that a sitting Speaker was booted from the post. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) led the effort against McCarthy, and was joined by seven Republicans and every Democrat. 

Those who ousted McCarthy expressed anger about his decision to bring up a “clean” continuing resolution to fund the government on Saturday after 21 Republicans — including many who voted to remove him — rejected a GOP-only stopgap on Friday.

“Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it is necessary,” McCarthy said. “I don’t regret standing up for choosing governance over grievance. It is my responsibility, it is my job. I do not regret negotiating. Our government is designed to find compromise.” 

McCarthy lets loose

McCarthy let loose on his detractors in a lengthy press conference — namely Gaetz.

“You all know Matt Gaetz,” McCarthy said. “You know it was personal. It had nothing to do about spending, it had nothing to do about everything he accused somebody of he was doing. It all was about getting attention from you.”

“I mean, we’re getting email fundraisers from him as he’s doing it. Join in quickly,” McCarthy continued, referring to Gaetz fundraising off his motion to vacate. “That’s not governing, that’s not becoming of a member of Congress. And regardless of what you think, I’ve seen the text, it was all about his Ethics, but that’s alright.”

Gaetz, whom the Justice Department declined to charge after a lengthy sex-trafficking investigation, is facing another investigation by the House Ethics Committee. McCarthy has said that he thinks the Florida congressman has blamed him for the investigation. Gaetz has denied that the ethics probe factored into his move.

McCarthy rejected the suggestion that those who voted to remove him were more conservative.

“They are not conservatives,” McCarthy said, later adding: “They don’t get to say they’re conservative because they’re angry and they’re chaotic.”

He also accused former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of reneging on a promise to help him keep the gavel after recommending that he give in to demands from his detractors in January to lower the motion to vacate threshold to just one member. Pelosi’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McCarthy brushed off a question about whether he regrets embracing former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, which many Democrats said was a contributing factor in their refusal to help save him from being ousted. He responded that Democrats “played so many politics” after Jan. 6.

What comes next 

McCarthy’s ouster essentially thrusts the House into a standstill, with the chamber unable to conduct legislative business without a Speaker. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a close McCarthy ally, was named Speaker pro tempore and will preside over the House until it elects a new Speaker.

It’s not immediately clear who could be nominated for Speaker instead. GOP members said that the conference will have a candidate forum next Tuesday to select their next nominee for the job. Votes are not expected in the House for the rest of the week.

The most obvious pick is House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), the No. 2 House Republican who is currently undergoing treatment for blood cancer. Gaetz, however, has said he will not pass over Scalise because of his condition.

Scalise did not directly answer whether his intention is to seek the Speaker’s gavel, saying he has not made any announcement.

“Obviously a lot of things happened today that we’re not expected. There’s gonna be a lot of conversations that members will be having,” Scalise said.

Asked if he would run for Speaker, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) — the No. 3 House Republican — pointed to Scalise.

“He’d made a great Speaker,” Emmer said.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), meanwhile, said the party needs “a fresh face.”

“We need someone different that’s not a part of the circus at the moment.”

Other names floated by members on Tuesday include Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), and former President Trump. The Speaker does not have to be a member of the House.

“Between now and then [Tuesday] there’s gonna be a lot obviously a lot of work to be done to try to consider and vet and discuss and compare notes and see who can build a coalition for support and then we as a conference will hear from them and challenge them,” Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), one of the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, said.

Rebecca Beitsch contributed. Updated at 9:18 p.m.