Prior to Kevin McCarthy's ouster in a historic motion to vacate Tuesday, most people probably hadn't heard of Rep. Patrick McHenry, the bespectacled and bow-tied gentleman from North Carolina who has focused a lot of his legislative attention on fiscal policy, and may easily have his name misstated as one of the country's founding fathers. But now he's in the spotlight as the speaker pro tempore, the reluctant leader of a paralyzed House of Representatives.

Who is he? A 10-term congressman, Rep. Patrick McHenry is a former member of House GOP leadership who chose to step away from the role after Republicans lost the House in 2018.

  • Now the chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, he gained a little more prominence during the recent negotiations over the debt limit and averting a government shutdown as the person McCarthy tapped to liaise with the White House.
  • McHenry is a classic fiscal conservative, proudly declaring in his House biography that he has "never voted for a tax increase in his career."
  • And now, he is the speaker pro tempore of the House of Representatives, a placeholder role that is essentially the interim speaker while the majority party, Republicans, determines its next moves.

What's the big deal? Well, this hasn't ever happened before. Ever. In the history of the United States. A sitting speaker has not been ousted in a vote by members of the House.

  • McHenry was handpicked by McCarthy to lead in the event that the speaker's seat was left vacant.
  • Every speaker, when taking office, creates a list of succession that is shared with the Clerk of the House. McCarthy knew it was very possible that he could be removed this way thanks to a change in House rules to allow a "motion to vacate" — the mechanism to oust a speaker — to be introduced by any single member. And he had the slimmest of slim majorities and it took 15 votes to get him seated to begin with.

  • And McHenry isn't new to leadership. Apart from being House Financial Services chair, he served as ranking member of the committee before the GOP majority in the 118th Congress. Before that, he was a member of Republican leadership as chief deputy whip.

Want more on what happened to now former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy? Listen to the NPR Politics Podcast for the full breakdown.

What are people saying? McHenry is generally well liked within his party. But he's already catching flak from more outspoken members of the GOP who are criticizing his unwillingness to take action in a chamber that is currently deadlocked on getting anything done due to its lack of formal leadership. And he's distrusted by far-right members because of his role in the deal to avoid a government shutdown.

Plus, there's drama over his requests of former Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer to move from their offices in the Capitol, which is endearing him to those far-right skeptics.

So, what now? That's a million dollar question.

  • McHenry has not declared whether he'll run for the speakership and most members expect he'll stay out of the fray.
  • Others have thrown their names in already like Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the current Majority Leader, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Chair of the House Oversight Committee and the House Freedom Caucus. The job of the speaker pro tempore is to temporarily hold the seat until a new speaker of the House is elected. But it is unclear how fast that could be.
  • As one member put it to NPR's Claudia Grisales, the magic number remains 218 and it's a "big if" anyone can reach that number of votes. So, McHenry may be the unofficial babysitter of Congress for some time. A moment for the bow tie enthusiasts, indeed.

There's a lot going on here:

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