After six failed attempts to confirm Rep. Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, Republicans were successful in their motion to adjourn last night’s evening session and got to work trying to broker a deal that would get the experienced power broker from California over the finish line.
The deal they may have at least come close to finalizing in the early hours of this morning is built in part on the foundation of McCarthy agreeing to restore the one-member motion to vacate.
A one-member motion to vacate can be introduced by a member of the House of Representatives with the intention of removing the speaker of the House from that position. The motion is typically used as a means of expressing discontent with the speaker’s performance or conduct and can be seen as a way for members of the House to hold the speaker accountable for his or her actions.
As attorney Michael Epstein pointed out to me in an interview this morning:
“The U.S. Constitution does not provide a specific procedure for removing the speaker of the House from office, so the House of Representatives has developed its own rules and procedures for doing so. The motion to vacate the chair is one way that the House can consider removing the speaker, but it is ultimately up to the members of the House to decide whether or not to adopt the motion and remove the speaker.”
Rules of the House of Representatives state that the motion would need to be made in writing and must state the grounds for the proposed removal of the speaker. The member who introduces the motion is then given the opportunity to speak in support of the motion, and other members of the House may also speak on the matter.
If the motion to vacate is approved by a majority of the House, the speaker is immediately removed from the position, and a new speaker is elected.
This process can be disruptive to the legislative process, as the speaker is an important figure in the House and is responsible for managing debates and maintaining order during proceedings. This week’s leadership election has been historically tricky — eclipsed only by the 133 votes needed to elect a speaker in 1856 — but just imagine how much friction would be involved in selecting a new speaker mid-session.
One notable example of a one-member motion to vacate occurred in 2015, when Rep. Mark Meadows tried to remove Speaker John Boehner from his position. Meadows cited a lack of leadership and an inability to effectively lead the House as the grounds for Boehner’s proposed removal. The motion ultimately failed, as it did not receive the necessary support from the majority of the House.
It is also important to note that the one-member motion to vacate is a distinct procedure from the process of impeaching the speaker, which can also be used to remove the speaker from the position. Impeachment is a more formal process that requires the approval of the House and the Senate and typically involves allegations of serious misconduct or abuse of power.
As Politico reported this morning, “while McCarthy originally indicated that restoring the one-member ‘motion to vacate’ was a red line, his allies now argue that there’s not a huge practical difference between this and his previous offer of requiring five members to trigger the vote.”
This analysis isn’t great in practical terms, as it seems likely that there would always be at least one member of this incarnation of the House so primed to oppose Speaker McCarthy that this brokered deal would eventually break down. The one-member motion to vacate wasn’t designed to be a political sword of Damocles — it is supposed to be just one restrictive check on the power of the speaker.
Just imagine the optics of one member of the House in the 118th Congress being able to trigger a leadership vote, theoretically again and again. This is decidedly not a good look for the GOP, which is why it seems unlikely that a deal ultimately gets done early today.
Ultimately, the one-member motion to vacate is a rare but important procedural tool that allows members of the House of Representatives to hold the speaker accountable and to express their discontent with the speaker’s performance or conduct.
Yet the one-member motion to vacate wasn’t designed to be a political sword of Damocles — it is simply an important check on the power of the speaker and helps to ensure that the House operates effectively and in the best interests of the American people.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.