"Motion to Vacate" Issue Could be Roadblock for Speaker of the House Vote

The House passed a one-week continuing resolution (CR) giving negotiators more time to reach a spending deal for the rest of fiscal year 2023.  The vote was 224-201 with nine House Republicans joining all voting Democrats in backing the measure: (Reps. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Chris Jacobs (N.Y.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), John Katko (N.Y.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Steve Womack (Ark.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.)).

Negotiators believe they are very close to reaching an agreement on the omnibus spending bill and hold out hope that the Senate could vote as early as Monday.  That deadline may be a bit ambitious, but work will continue through the weekend.  Lawmakers and staff want to wrap this up and be home for Christmas. 

For House Republicans, the vote that matters is the January 3rd vote for Speaker.  Everything else – every vote, every statement is viewed through the lens of how it impacts January 3rd.  Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy needs 218 votes to become Speaker.  So would anybody else.  Five House Republicans have publicly stated they will not vote for Leader McCarthy.  With a four-seat margin – Leader McCarthy cannot lose 5 votes. 

Leader McCarthy and his team are confident he will eventually get the required 218 votes.  But they also know they have work to do to get there and negotiations and discussions will continue right up until January 3rd.  The most difficult issue right now is the “Motion to Vacate.”  The parliamentary tactic allowed a single Member to bring a privileged resolution – a motion to vacate the chair and remove the Speaker.  Former Rep. Mark Meadows (R_NC) threatened to bring the motion to the floor in 2015 when John Boehner was the Speaker.  Rather than put his Members through a messy and politically difficult vote, he decided to resign instead.  The issue has divided the Republican conference ever since – with the majority of Members angered and frustrated that a small minority of Members could create legislative chaos. 

When Nancy Pelosi became Speaker in 2019, she turned off the motion to vacate – her conference backed her in making that rules change.  But now, House Republicans are taking over the majority and the issue is back.  The Republican conference voted overwhelmingly to allow for a motion to vacate to come to the floor if a majority of Republican Members supported it.  That passed an internal conference by a wide margin – indicating strong support from rank and file to not make the Speaker vulnerable to a small number of members.  But Members of the Freedom Caucus want a robust motion to vacate and are holding their support for the Speaker vote in hopes of revisiting the issue.  It is possible that the threshold could be lowered from a majority of the conference to a third of the conference or some other number.  But it is a hard deal to reach.  The majority of the conference will insist that the threshold exceeds the number of members in the Freedom Caucus (around 35).  The majority of Republican Members do not want to give the Freedom Caucus the sole power to take down a Speaker.  Of course, for Freedom Caucus Members that’s the whole point – so they do not want the threshold to be very high.  It is a discussion likely to continue right up until the voting begins on January 3rd. 


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