Matt Gaetz is threatening to oust Kevin McCarthy. It won’t be easy
Matt Gaetz. Image via AP.

Matt Gaetz
What will happen if the Fort Walton Beach Republican follows through on his threats?

“How would you be different as Speaker, compared to Mr. Boehner?” a reporter asked then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in September 2015 as the California Republican pursued, and eventually gave up, his first attempt at the speakership.

McCarthy laughed while standing next to outgoing Speaker John Boehner — who had just stepped down after facing a threat of removal — and joked that he was from a different generation and wouldn’t be as tan.

Eight years later, McCarthy is finding that there are fewer differences between them as he faces a conservative revolt against his speakership.

“If somebody wants to remove (me) because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try,” McCarthy told reporters Saturday.

And his critics, namely Rep. Matt Gaetz, plan to do just that. On Sunday, the far-right Republican from Fort Walton Beach threatened to use a procedural tool — called a motion to vacate — to try and strip McCarthy of his office as soon as this week after he relied on Democrats to provide the necessary votes to fund the government.

“I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid,” Gaetz said on CNN. “I think we need to move on with new leadership that can be trustworthy.”

Here’s what you need to know about how the House can remove a speaker:

What is a motion to vacate?

The rules of the House allow for any single lawmaker — Democrat or Republican — to make a “motion to vacate the chair,” essentially an attempt to oust the Speaker from that leadership post through a privileged resolution.

It’s a rare and strong procedural tool that has only been used twice in the past century. But in recent years, conservatives have wielded the motion as a weapon against their leaders.

In January, McCarthy, hoping to appease some on the hard right as he fought to gain their vote for Speaker, agreed to give as few as five Republican members the ability to initiate a vote to remove him. But when that wasn’t good enough for his critics, he agreed to reduce that threshold to one — the system that historically has been the norm.

Proponents of allowing a single lawmaker to file the motion said it promotes accountability, noting its long history in the House. The last use of the motion was in 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a Republican who later became Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff, introduced a resolution to declare the Speaker’s office vacant. Two months later, Boehner said he would be stepping down.

No Speaker has ever been removed from office through a motion to vacate.

How does it work?

At any point in time, a member of the House can introduce a privileged resolution —a designation that gives it priority over other measures — to declare the office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives vacant.

Once the motion is introduced, the lawmaker can walk onto the House floor and request a vote. Such a request would force House leaders to schedule a vote on the resolution within two legislative days.

But there are procedural motions that members of either party could introduce to slow down or stop the process altogether. If those tactics were to fail, and the resolution came to the floor for a vote, it would take a simple majority of the House — 218 votes, when no seats are vacant — to remove the speaker.

While it has never been successful, a motion to vacate has been used as a political threat against several speakers throughout history, dating back to Republican Speaker Joseph Cannon — who first invoked the resolution against himself in 1910. The effort failed as his fellow Republicans voted overwhelmingly to keep him as their leader. But by calling the bluff of his detractors, Cannon was able to put them on the record and end the threats against him.

In 1997, Republicans frustrated with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich considered trying to oust him but eventually decided against it. Most recently, the mere whispers of a motion to vacate forced Boehner out of office and set McCarthy on the path to the leadership post he has today.

Who is trying to oust McCarthy and why?

Just like for Boehner, the call for McCarthy’s removal began with just one man. Gaetz, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, has been threatening to file the resolution to remove him from the dais ever since McCarthy was nominated Speaker by a majority of the conference earlier this year.

Gaetz is among 20 or so members who voted against McCarthy round after round as he fought to become Speaker. While others eventually relented and voted in favor of McCarthy or present, Gaetz fought until the very end.

“This will all be torpedoed by one person who wants to put a motion to vacate for personal, political reasons, and undermine the will of the conference and the American people, who elected a Republican majority to govern,” Rep. Mike Lawler, a New York Republican and defender of McCarthy, said Sunday on ABC.

Gaetz and other critics of McCarthy say he has failed to be the conservative leader the party needs. They have railed against his deal with the White House over raising the debt limit earlier this year and have demanded the House slash spending levels to new lows. The group has also made sweeping demands to reimagine the U.S. government, which they criticize as “woke and weaponized.”

Does a motion to vacate have the votes to pass?

As of right now, it is unclear, but there’s reason to be skeptical. No matter how loud or disruptive they may be, the anti-McCarthy faction is only a small minority in a Republican conference that is mostly supportive or amenable to him remaining speaker.

Another problem with the push to remove McCarthy is that there is no clear, consensus candidate to take his place. And lastly, and maybe more importantly, Gaetz would need the support of most Democrats to oust McCarthy if the motion ever came to a vote — and it’s far from certain that they would join him.

“The one thing I agree with my Democrat colleagues on is that for the last eight months, this House has been poorly led and we own that and we have to do something about it,” Gaetz said on the floor last week. “And you know what? My Democrat colleagues will have an opportunity to do something about that, too. And we will see if they bail out our failed Speaker.”

Gaetz has been speaking to House Democrats from across the ideological spectrum in recent weeks trying to assess what kind of support, if any, he would have from those across the aisle if he were to file his motion and it came to the floor.

“We haven’t had a discussion about any hypothetical motion to vacate,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said at a news conference Saturday. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

If they oust McCarthy, what happens next?

The House would enter uncharted territory if a motion to vacate effort against McCarthy were to pass the full House.

The Speaker of the House, under the rules of the chamber, is required to keep a list of individuals who can act as Speaker Pro Tempore in the event a chair is vacated. The list, which is oddly written by the sitting Speaker at any given time, remains with the House Clerk and would be made public if the speakership were vacant.

The first person on that list would be named Speaker Pro Tempore and their first order of business would be to hold an election for a new Speaker. That event requires the House to vote as many times as it takes for a candidate to receive the majority of those present and voting for speaker.

For McCarthy, that process took an unprecedented 15 rounds in January.

New candidates for Speaker could emerge, but there’s also nothing to stop Republicans from nominating McCarthy again.

Associated Press


  • Michael K

    October 2, 2023 at 8:17 am

    I agree with Matt. Hakeem Jeffries would be a much better Houe Speaker.

  • Earl Pitts "Beware Of Earl's Size 13 Wingtip" American

    October 2, 2023 at 9:31 am

    Good mornting America,
    I, Earl Pitts American, and a select few of my capable staff here at The Earl Pitts American Political Science Division have completed calling and speaking to all Republican House Members along with sixteen Democratic House Members who work with us on “The Down Low”.
    Bottom Line:
    We got the votes to boot that limp wristed RINO McCarthy skidding out of The Speaker’s Office on his stink @ss (see Earl’s disclaimer on his massive size 13 wingtips below).
    However America; this is great publicity for us, The Good Guys, so in order to milk as much good press out of this as possable we are going to streach our “Dog and Pony” show out as long as possable to wean more and more Americans off the teat of Dook 4 Brains Leftism and 100% convert them to good, honest, God Fearing Americans.
    Closing Bottom Line:
    I, Earl Pitts American, noticed that Matt Gaetz was kind-of-sorta on the right path but kind-of-sorta going about the implementation process in somewhat of a bumbeling-stumbling-haphazard and un-refined style which was headed straight to the Official House Wash-Room Swirley Flush Of Failure.
    I will always bail you out when the best intrest of our Great Nation hangs in the balance Matt.
    Earl Pitts American
    *America it looks like the good guys are going to win this one and I wont need to kick any political posteriors with my massive size 13 wingtips*
    *This is my bestest bumper sticker ever and likely will be seen on vehicals world-wide within 24 hours*

  • Mark Knowlton

    October 2, 2023 at 2:05 pm

    McCarthy isn’t in our best interest, Amerika can’t take such a limpwristed wimp to barter with the Biden Crime Family……just saying

Comments are closed.


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