House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a major reversal has decided to support restoring a rule that allows a motion from the floor of the House of Representatives to “vacate the chair” and force a vote on a new Speaker of the House.
McCarthy’s change of position comes as the first vote of the newly convening 118th Congress is expected to begin in less than 48 hours on Jan. 3 at noon. McCarthy is the clear choice to succeed the outgoing Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of a majority of 222 Republicans who will hold the majority in the House.
But to be elected Speaker, McCarthy must win the votes of a majority of all members present on the floor for the vote. That means if all 222 Republicans and 212 Democrats are present, McCarthy can only afford to lose four GOP votes in order to secure the 218 needed to be elected Speaker.
Five House Republicans, led by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), have said in recent weeks they will not vote for McCarthy under any circumstances, but that was before the Californian changed his mind on the vacate the chair issue.
During a long conference call with fellow House Republicans late Sunday, McCarthy said he has decided to go along with bringing back the rule that was dropped after it was used by then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to take the Speaker’s Gavel away from Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) in 2015.
McCarthy has opposed restoring the rule, which is analogous to the British Parliament’s “No Confidence” vote, because it would severely weaken the power of a Speaker to control his or her party caucus.
But the pressure of the Biggs-led caucus and the razor-thin majority handed to the Republicans in the Nov. 8 midterm election forced McCarthy to make multiple concessions to the House Freedom Caucus in his effort to get to 218 votes.
Details of exactly how the new vacate motion will function are still to be worked out, according to Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), but McCarthy said on the conference call he would support a motion brought by at least five members.
“This is uncharted territory,” Weber told The Epoch Times late Sunday. “There’s been a lot of conversation in recent weeks. Members are concerned that there is too much power consolidated at the top, and I get that.
“Kevin McCarthy has done a good job of getting everybody together, and so the fact that he is willing to say, ‘Let’s go with five members,’ is encouraging. What that would do, of course, is bring in discussions we’ve had in the GOP conference.”
Weber said there is still concern among many of his colleagues that bringing back the vacate the chair motion will introduce more confusion in the House at just the wrong time.
“The problem with that is, do the math, you get with 222 to 212, you literally could change the Speakership of the House to Democrat from Republican if you had five or six Republicans who would vote with the Democrats,” Weber said.
Other procedural issues still must be decided as well, such as whether a majority of members present or the majority of the House period would be required to carry a motion to vacate.
Weber said his preference would be that, rather than going straight to a vote on a new speaker after a vacate motion passes, the issue would go to the majority party’s conference.
“Then by golly if in say the Republican conference, we say, ‘No, we’re not going to change the Speaker,’ or, ‘Yep, it’s time to change the speaker,” he said, agreeing that such a procedure could act as a safety valve to allow time for passions to cool.
Weber said he believes the House Republicans should unify because in doing so, “what we’re doing is putting the meat on the bones of the Commitment to America. We’ve got great plans in store, I like what I am hearing.
“Now, let’s all just get together behind this one person called Kevin McCarthy and let’s not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
McCarthy got some discouraging news on Sunday when six House Republicans, including Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the House Freedom Caucus Chairman, and three incoming GOP freshmen, signed a letter indicating continuing dissatisfaction with the Californian, despite his recent concessions.
“Regrettably, however, despite some progress achieved, Mr. McCarthy’s statement comes almost impossibly late to address continued deficiencies ahead of the opening of the 118th Congress on January 3rd,” the letter stated.
“At this state, it cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many of the crucial points still under debate are insufficient. This is especially true with respect to Mr. McCarthy’s candidacy for speaker because the times call for radical departure from the status quo—not a continuation of past and ongoing, Republican failures.”
In addition to Perry, the signers include Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland, and Andrew Clyde of Georgia. The incoming freshmen include Andy Nogales of Tennessee, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, and Eli Crane of Arizona.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include comment from House Republicans.