On the 15th vote, the United States House of Representatives finally elected California Congressman Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. The House can finally get down to business, following three days of inaction caused by a fringe minority of selfish radical Republicans.
One of the radicals’ demands to which McCarthy acceded to win (and weaken) the Speakership is to allow a single member to call a vote on removing the Speaker. Allowing a single member to move to vacate the chair is no innovation; it is a return to 200-plus-year-old practice that stood until 2019, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi imposed a rule that a majority of either party had to agree to allow such a motion to be considered. The motion appears to have been made twice in all the history of Congress:
- In 2015, Congressman Mark Meadows moved to remove Speaker John Boehner. The motion never came to a vote; Boehner resigned from the Speakership.
- In 1910, Democrats use the motion to try removing Republican Speaker Joseph Cannon. Cannon himself asked for that vote, knowing his fellow Republicans would not support the motion, to save face after Democrats and Progressive Republicans led by Nebraska’s George Norris had rebelled against Cannon’s control and stripped the Speaker of numerous powers.
In over 200 years, the motion to vacate the Speakership has been made twice, voted on once, and passed never.
So I have to ask McCarthy and the wingnuts and everyone else why reverting this House rule to the form found in Thomas Jefferson’s original manual for parliamentary procedure constitutes a major concession or any sort of real weakening of the Speaker’s power. Let the fringe lunatics who resisted McCarthy’s assumption of the gavel never secured more than 20 votes. A motion to vacate from Gaetz, Boebert, et al., motivated by the same mere monkeywrench grandstanding that brought us this week’s stalemate, will never win a majority of votes from McCarthy’s fellow Republicans, who are really mad at the troublemakers for pooping on their welcome-to-majority parade. And while Democrats had little reason to stand in the way of the Republicans’ demonstration of their dilatory divisiveness this week, they have no reason to vote to remove the Speaker just because Gaetz or Greene says they should. In this Congress, Democrats (and the country) would only stand to gain from removing Speaker McCarthy if the motion was coming from moderate Republicans willing to break ranks and vote for Minority Leader Hakeen Jeffries for Speaker, and that’s never going to happen.
At worst, the motion to vacate gives the Republican Party’s chaos caucus just one more tool to briefly delay action on meaningful legislation. Let Lauren Boebert stand up every week and move to vacate the chair. A smart speaker will allow the motion to proceed through debate once, win the vote, and then every time the motion is renewed, line up allies to move the previous question and immediately dispose of the dilatory motion with a majority negative vote. Votes to remove the Speaker will go nowhere fast, and the chaos caucus will tire of burning its capital on such an embarrassingly ineffective ploy.
One Representative can call for the Speaker’s removal—big deal. Speaker McCarthy can let the fringe radicals in his party move and squawk all they want: they failed to rally even a tenth of their own party to oppose his ascent, and barring profound scandal, they’ll never rally the mainstream of a party they’ve effectively alienated this week to depose the Speaker on their selfish whims.