Kevin McCarthy has become the first ever House speaker to be voted out of office following a brutal rebellion by conservative hardliners.
The dramatic move laid bare the level of acrimony between moderates and hard-right Republicans and is likely to leave the House of Representatives paralysed for some time to come.
Mr McCarthy was ousted in a 216 to 210 vote to “vacate” the speakership after eight Republican rebels voted to depose him and Democrats declined to ride to his rescue.
He is the first ever speaker to be voted out of office in the House of Representatives’ 234-year history. The powerful role is second in the presidential line of succession.
In an address on Tuesday night, Mr McCarthy said he had chosen “governing over grievance”.
He said: “I may have lost a vote today, but I fought for what I believe in - and I believe in America. It has been an honour to serve.”
He also compared Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, saying the actions of the Russian president “looks a lot like the 1930s”.
Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina congressman, has been appointed as an interim leader. But there is no clear successor for Mr McCarthy who can win the backing of both Republican centrists and the party’s right flank.
In a statement, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said Mr Biden hoped the House would move quickly to elect a new speaker.
“Once the House has met their responsibility to elect a Speaker, he looks forward to working together with them and with the Senate to address the American peoples’ priorities,” she said.
‘If I have to lose my job over it, so be it’
The move was triggered by Matt Gaetz, a hard-right representative for Florida, and supported by Andy Biggs, Ken Buck, Tim Burchett, Eli Crane, Bob Good, Nancy Mace and Matt Rosendale.
Most are also fiscal hardliners who opposed Mr McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker early on.
It came just days after Mr McCarthy formed a compromise with Democrats to avert a government shutdown.
The stopgap measure passed on Saturday night to continue funding for another 45 days while Congress deliberated on longer-term spending agreements.
Mr Gaetz accused Mr McCarthy of betrayal and claimed he had allowed Joe Biden to take his “lunch money in every negotiation”.
Democrats, too, have said they are distrustful of Mr McCarthy, accusing him of reneging on a spending deal with Mr Biden agreed earlier this year.
Mr McCarthy was defiant ahead of the vote on Tuesday evening, saying: “If I have to lose my job over it, so be it”.
Though the 58-year-old congressman for California has earned a reputation as a political survivor, he told Republicans late on Tuesday that he would not be running for speaker again.
Trump: ‘Why are Republicans always fighting?’
Addressing the floor on Tuesday night, Mr Gaetz branded Mr McCarthy “a creature of the swamp”.
“It’s to the benefit of this country that we have a better speaker of the House than Kevin McCarthy,” he said after the vote.
However, Donald Trump appeared to oppose the move to oust Mr McCarthy by eight of his most vocal supporters in Congress.
“Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves, why aren’t they fighting the Radical Left Democrats who are destroying our Country?” he wrote on social media.
Moderate Republicans looked stricken in the chamber as the result was announced.
It sets up another bloody, internecine battle for the speakership while Congress has just over 40 days to avoid a government shutdown.
The threat of being deposed has hung like a Sword of Damocles over Mr McCarthy since he won the gavel after 15 rounds of voting in January.
Hardline conservatives hold outsized influence due to Republicans’ narrow 222-213 majority and extracted a key concession from Mr McCarthy in exchange for their support.
That involved a rule change that allowed any one member of the House to call a snap vote to oust him.
With the threat of a shutdown looming on Saturday, Mr McCarthy sidestepped conservatives and turned to the Democrat minority to pass an eleventh-hour stopgap spending bill.
To win Democratic support, Mr McCarthy ditched conservative demands for deep spending cuts and immigration restrictions.
His one concession to the Republican right was to rule out further funding for Ukraine.
However, conservatives were outraged and Mr Gaetz, 41, accused Mr McCarthy of engaging in a “secret side deal with Joe Biden” to continue funding Ukraine.
The resolution to vacate the speakership required a simple majority to pass, meaning Mr McCarthy could only afford to lose four Republican votes if every Democrat voted against him.
The House Minority Leader, Hakeem Jeffries, encouraged his party to oust Mr McCarthy, citing his “unwillingness to break from MAGA extremism”.