Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) has stated that he will file a “motion to vacate the chair” this week.
This is an endeavor to force a vote of no confidence on the floor for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and potentially prompt a new vote for speaker.
Gaetz does not believe McCarthy has held up his end of the bargain following the protracted January vote for speaker. The Republican from Florida threatened to use this motion if McCarthy relied on Democrats to pass spending measures. McCarthy reached out to Democrats to avert a government shutdown on Saturday.
Such an attempt to oust a speaker in the midst of a Congress session is uncommon.
In the summer of 2015, former Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, threatened to employ this strategy against former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner saw the writing on the wall in October of that year and resigned.
In 1910, there was the last formal endeavor to remove a speaker from office. Several members were dissatisfied with House Speaker Joe Cannon, R-Illinois, and deemed him to be too autocratic. Cannon preempted his opponents, who also desired a new speaker, by proposing the motion to step down himself. Cannon survived, but only with assistance from the minority party.
Consequently, he became a terrible speaker. It is unknown whether Democrats could save McCarthy in this scenario.
Remember that Louisiana Republican Representative Garret Graves has also filed a motion to vacate the chair. This is a precautionary measure that Graves could employ to counter Gaetz’s maneuver. It was believed that McCarthy loyalists could attempt to call Gaetz’s bluff by submitting their own motion first or daring him to act.
According to the rule, Gaetz’s resolution is “privileged.” Therefore, when Gaetz presents his resolution, the House must promptly or within two legislative days, consider it.
However, the vote on the motion to vacate the chair will not occur immediately. It is very likely that one of McCarthy’s aides will then move to dismiss (kill) Gaetz’s motion or refer the effort to the Rules or House Administration Committee. Therefore, the first vote is NOT on Gaetz’s motion, much less the election of a new speaker. The vote is not on the primary motion but on the secondary motion to table or refer Gaetz’s measure to committee.
If the House approves the secondary motion to table or refer, Gaetz’s gambit is ineffective. The act is over
In the event that the secondary motion fails, the House then votes on the primary motion. This is Gaetz’s proposal to vacate the chair. If the secondary motion fails, it is likely that the primary motion will prevail. If the primary motion (the motion to vacate) is successful, we will return to the beginning of the Congress on January 3, if the motion to vacate is effective. To choose a speaker, the House must vote – or vote multiple times.
Everything would come to an abrupt halt on the House floor. The House cannot conduct any business on the floor unless a speaker is elected. No legislation is pending. Nevertheless, committees can continue meeting, etc.
McCarthy was elected for the first time after 15 rounds spanning five days. It was the longest election for speaker since 1859. Consider how long it could take for the House to re-elect McCarthy or select a replacement speaker.
The House must continue to vote repeatedly until a speaker is elected. In late 1855 and early 1856, the House debated for two months before ultimately electing Nathaniel Banks, R-Massachusetts, on the 163rd ballot.
The winning candidate must acquire an absolute majority of all votes cast for a specific candidate. Votes cast “present” do not count. Members who do not vote are not included in the vote tally.
The individual with the “most votes” does not prevail. Consequently, the process of electing the speaker can be a complex application of parliamentary algebra.
There are currently 433 members in the House. If all members vote by name in a race for speaker, the winning candidate must receive 217 ballots.
It’s uncertain if it will get to this stage. But this entire process is about the math.
Uncertain is the number of Republicans who might vote against the secondary motion to defer or refer. McCarthy’s action regarding government funding has infuriated many on the extreme right.
And it is unknown whether Democrats could assist McCarthy.
Some Democratic opponents of McCarthy may vote with Republicans seeking McCarthy’s ouster as speaker. Others are not permitted to vote at all. Democratic Minority Leader of the House Hakeem Jeffries of New York has stated that Republicans must resolve this civil conflict on their own.
If Democrats do not vote on the secondary motion, the total number of votes cast is reduced. This is where McCarthy’s situation becomes extremely perilous. It is possible that McCarthy’s allies lack the required number of votes to defeat the motion to vacate, thereby bringing the motion into play on the subsequent roll call.
Again, if the second motion fails, the House votes on the first motion, which is the motion to vacate. If the House rejects the second motion, the primary Gaetz motion will likely be adopted. And this circumstance triggers an automatic re-vote for House speaker.