July 16, 2024

Florida Republican Representative made good on a threat Monday when he introduced a petition to declare the office of Speaker of the House vacant. If he is successful, Speaker Kevin McCarthy would make history as the first Speaker removed by a vote of the House membership. See Gaetz Introduces Motion to Unseat House Speaker, McCarthy Says ‘Bring It On’ for details. 

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Gaetz’s “declare the chair vacant” gambit has its genesis in the deal that McCarthy was forced to cut to win the speakership in January 2022. Under its provisions, a petition to declare the chair vacant had to be brought to the floor and could not be sandbagged by the Speaker in the Rules Committee. The proximate cause is the decision by McCarthy to cut a deal with House Democrats to pass a 45-day continuing resolution; see BREAKING: Senate Approves Continuing Resolution to Avoid Government Shutdown.

Standing up to make a question of privilege Monday evening, Gaetz kicked off a process to force a vote on the measure — moves that together are widely known as the “motion to vacate the chair.”

“He doesn’t have my support anymore and he doesn’t have the support of a requisite number of Republicans to continue as the Republican Speaker,” Gaetz told reporters following his announcement on the House floor.

A vote on the motion to vacate the chair will have to be brought up within two legislative days. But it is likely that the House, rather than voting on the resolution itself, would first vote on some mechanism to kill or delay it, such as voting to table the resolution.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rep. Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) said on Monday that they would support Gaetz’s move. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) said that while he is still “praying about it,” he said that “my conscience is telling me to – to vote him out.”

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McCarthy faces the prospect of losing as many as 20 GOP votes if everything goes pear-shaped for him. The current partisan split in the House is 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats. This means losing five GOP votes could remove him from office if the Democrats vote as a bloc against the resolution. I’m unsure if anyone has thought through this scheme any more than Wile E. Coyote thought through his.

I’m sure McCarthy will lobby restive Republicans for their vote, but the mere handful of votes needed to remove him from office means that McCarthy has a choice to make. He can either see himself removed from his position, and that would almost certainly require him to resign from Congress, or he can cut a deal with Hakeem Jeffries for the support of the Democrat caucus. My money says McCarthy cuts a deal. 

What does that mean? It means that the Democrats will probably end up with a larger voice in the decisions made by McCarthy. He controls the parliamentary process and can help Democrat bills move through the House and bury GOP bills to which the Democrats object. It means that the seat at the table afforded to the Freedom Caucus may no longer exist because McCarthy’s job will depend on Democrat votes, and he can afford to ignore rebel Republicans.

The unanswered question to Gaetz’s petition is, if it succeeds, who becomes Speaker? The only man I can see who could pull the votes to win is Steve Scalise, and he has major health issues that would make serving as Speaker very difficult for him. It is easy to see the geniuses who masterminded this move ending up allowing a Democrat to become Speaker.

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Whatever the outcome of the vote, I don’t see how this fiasco moves the ball forward for either the Freedom Caucus or the GOP. After forcing a vote on removing McCarthy, a vote that will almost certainly fail, McCarthy will have no incentive to cooperate with conservative members because he doesn’t owe them anything. I don’t even see how this move aids Matt Gaetz’s ambitions. He’s going to get very little support for this vote, and it isn’t going to improve his chances of becoming the next governor of Florida.

This strikes me as the political equivalent of trolling someone on Twitter (or whatever Elon Musk calls it today). It will be wildly popular with a few people, but most will shake their heads in amazement that something this ill-conceived actually happened.

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