Former House speaker Kevin McCarthy to resign from Congress at end of year

<span>Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The former US House speaker Kevin McCarthy will retire from Congress at the end of this month.

Related: ‘A bully’: McCarthy accused of shoving Republican who helped oust him

“I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways,” McCarthy said, in a column for the Wall Street Journal. “I know my work is only getting started.”

McCarthy, 58 and from California, was a longtime member of House Republican leadership. He became speaker in January – but only after enduring 15 votes for the role as the far right of his own party held him hostage.

The gavel secured, he stayed loyal to Donald Trump, the former president who faces 91 criminal charges and assorted civil threats but still dominates his party, the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination next year.

McCarthy backed Trump despite his incitement of the January 6 attack on Congress, joining 146 other congressional Republicans in voting to object to results in key states even after the mob breached the walls of the Capitol. Memorably, Trump called McCarthy “My Kevin”.

Nonetheless, in October, after McCarthy leant on Democratic support to keep the federal government funded and open, the same far-right, pro-Trump faction made him the first speaker ever ejected by his own party.

In his Journal column, McCarthy heralded what he said were his achievements in office – without mentioning that Democratic control of the Senate and White House rendered most of them moot – and claimed that “No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing.

“That may seem out of fashion in Washington these days, but delivering results for the American people is still celebrated across the country,” McCarthy wrote. “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.”

He repeated such claims in a video statement released on social media.

McCarthy was tormented and ultimately ejected by the right of his party, in part because he never enjoyed a majority strong enough to reduce their power.

His retirement, on the heels of the expulsion last week of the fabulist and accused fraudster George Santos, will reduce that Republican majority still further.

After McCarthy steps down, Mike Johnson, the hard-right Louisianan who became speaker after three other candidates failed to attract enough support, will only be able to lose three votes before being unable to operate without Democratic support.

Under California law, the Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, has 140 days in which to conduct a special election.

In October, attempting to project defiance after his brutal defenestration by his own party, McCarthy told supporters he would not quit the fight.

“I’m not resigning,” he said. “I got a lot more work to do.”

But months of tension in the corridors of power – including an alleged physical attack on Tim Burchett, a Republican rightwinger from Tennessee – only stoked predictions that McCarthy would soon quit.

On Saturday, Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat and frequent McCarthy antagonist, predicted that “with Santos gone … the next GOP member to leave Congress will be [Kevin] McCarthy.

“No way he stays. A guy who kidney punches his colleagues from behind is too afraid to serve out a full term with them,” he said. “I bet he’s gone by end of year.”

After McCarthy’s resignation came to pass, critics were quick to pass judgment on a congressional career that began in 2007, with McCarthy hailed as a Republican “Young Gun”, and saw the prodigious fundraiser and glad-hander rise to be whip, majority leader and speaker.

Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant from California, said: “Kevin McCarthy’s story is an epic tragedy about the pursuit of power, the compromise of values and how power reveals character. He could have been remembered as a great statesman who did the right thing at a critical moment, but he will go down as the weakest speaker in history.”

Joe Walsh, a former rightwing congressman now an anti-Trump commentator, said: “I served in Congress with Kevin McCarthy. He has no core. He’s a hollow man. His only reason for being is the pursuit of power, his only guide is his personal ambition. And in the end, this was his undoing.”