Kevin McCarthy floats concession on allowing conservatives to remove House speaker
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is floating a last-minute deal to bring conservative holdouts in line and clinch the speakership.
The embattled California Republican is offering a congressional rule change that would make it easier to remove a House speaker in exchange for his ascension to the post. McCarthy's offer would lower the threshold required for a motion to vacate the chair — a parliamentary gambit that forces a vote on retaining the speaker.
Currently, because of a rules change pushed through by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only a member of the House leadership can offer a motion to vacate. Conservative House Republicans are pushing for that standard to be repealed, allowing any one member to force a vote on the speaker at any time.
'Every member of Congress was elected to legislate on behalf of their constituents,' said Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican who is running against McCarthy for speaker. 'To do that, members must be able to hold their own leadership accountable.'
Allowing members to offer a motion to vacate the chair is seen as an insurance policy by hard-line Republicans. Many fear that once entrusted with the speaker's gavel, McCarthy will refuse to threaten a partial government shutdown in an effort to get President Biden to make concessions on policy.
'While difficult in practice, it is an important mechanism to restore trust and provide accountability,' said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas.
Given that the incoming House GOP majority is a only 222 seats, McCarthy cannot afford to ignore the demands. Officially, 218 votes are needed to clinch the speakership on the House floor on Jan. 3, assuming everyone is present and votes. McCarthy has already drawn five public no votes from Republicans.
Motions to vacate the chair were deployed only twice between 1910 and 2015. In the first instance, Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to oust GOP Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon for ruling with what many claimed was an iron fist. The vote eventually failed after Republicans refused to buck their leader.
It was threatened again in July 2015 by then-Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. Meadows sought to force a vote on Republican Speaker John Boehner's decision to strip him from the House Oversight Committee for voting against a trade bill.
Boehner's allies within leadership prevented the motion from going directly to the floor, instead sending it to the House Rules Committee for consideration. Three months later, Boehner resigned after conservatives indicated they would not drop the issue.
In the aftermath of Boehner's resignation, McCarthy made a bid for speaker but was forced to abandon that goal after opposition from the Freedom Caucus. Since Republicans only held a narrow majority, the nearly two-dozen-member group had veto power.
Boehner's successor as speaker, Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan, only agreed to run for the top spot after receiving a pledge from the Freedom Caucus that it would not try and oust him in the same manner.
Pelosi, D-Calif., changed the rule when Democrats retook the House in 2019 partial
'The House can't function if anyone can take the entire chamber hostage at any point over a petty disagreement with the speaker,' said a Republican congressional aide.
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