House Speaker Kevin McCarthy could face ‘motion to vacate;’ what is that?

As the threat of a shutdown of the federal government looms, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy faces his own problems.

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Hardline members of his own party have threatened to move forward with a procedure that would oust the California Republican from one of the highest offices in the land.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz said this week that any stopgap spending bill McCarthy negotiates to avoid a federal government shutdown would be an “automatic trigger” for a motion to vacate. Gaetz called for help from the 20 conservatives who resisted McCarthy’s speakership in the beginning.

Part of the deal that got McCarthy the House speakership was a concession that allowed any one member of the House to call for a vote to remove him from the position.

The procedure, called a “motion to vacate the chair,” works like this:

First, a resolution

Any one member of the house can file a resolution to have the speaker removed. A resolution to remove the speaker would be considered privileged, a designation that gives it priority over other issues.

Forcing a vote

Filing a resolution does not, in itself, force a vote. To force a vote, a member would have to announce on the House floor the intent to offer the resolution to remove the speaker.

If a member does that, it would require the speaker to put the resolution on the legislative schedule within two legislative days.

If it is not announced from the House floor, no vote is forced.

A motion to table the resolution, meaning the resolution is dead, could be offered. A vote to table the resolution requires a simple majority to pass. If it passes, the issue is over.

How many votes are needed?

To oust a speaker, a majority vote on the resolution would be needed.

What happens if the motion to vacate passes?

Should the speaker lose the vote, a procedure to fill his seat would be put into action.

The speaker is required to submit a confidential list of people to the Clerk of the House “in the order in which each shall act as Speaker pro tempore in the case of a vacancy.”

If McCarthy is ousted, the first person on that list becomes the interim speaker. That person would preside over the election of a new speaker.

As it was back in January when McCarthy became speaker, the House would have to accept nominations and hold a vote (as many as it takes) and elect a new speaker. The new speaker would have to get 218 votes, or a majority of those present and voting, to be speaker.

Would Democrats vote for it?

“Most of us came here to govern and get things done, not indulge Matt Gaetz when he has one of his tantrums,” Rep. Greg Landsman, D-Ohio, told Axios.

In addition, another House Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, predicted that “some” Democrats may support a motion to vacate, but “most won’t.”

“No love for Kevin. But [there is] concern about more chaos, and who might take his place if he is booted,” the lawmaker said, calling McCarthy “the devil you know.”

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