Barely Speaker Kevin McCarthy is on the verge of making history as the first leader to be ousted by the House of Representatives. Many Democrats have no inclination to save him, and Democratic leadership is officially against him. So if the unprecedented happens and the House votes to oust McCarthy, what happens next?
There will be a “speaker pro tempore,” an interim speaker who steps up. Following the 9/11 attacks, the 103rd Congress instituted a new rule requiring the speaker “to deliver to the Clerk a list of Members in the order in which each shall act as Speaker pro tempore in the case of a vacancy in the Office of Speaker.” The person at the top of McCarthy’s list would be empowered to exercise any “necessary and appropriate” authorities until the House elects a permanent speaker.
If McCarthy is removed, a vote to replace him would not be immediately triggered, notes Matt Glassman, a congressional scholar and Georgetown University senior fellow. “A motion to proceed to the election of a Speaker is privileged, but if the House were to reject it, they could take up other business with the Speaker pro tempore presiding,” he writes. If someone were ready to step up to be the next speaker, then they could make a motion to proceed, which would have to be voted on immediately. But it could take some time to work out who’s next without halting the business of the House, such as it is.
Glassman makes the important point that the House would not be in the same limbo it was during this past January’s protracted speaker elections. During that initial process of electing a speaker, the House members weren’t officially sworn in and the rules for the session had not been approved. The only business that could proceed at that time was the vote—or, in that case 15 votes—on the speaker.
Glassman says that it is likelier that they would start immediately on electing the new speaker, but that assumes Republican leadership agrees on who it should be. The likeliest successor might be current Majority Leader Steve Scalise, but he’s currently undergoing cancer treatment and probably doesn’t want to be saddled with the Freedom Caucus right now. Majority Whip Tom Emmer is another possibility, but when asked about it recently, he said, “I have zero interest in palace intrigue. End of discussion.” Then there’s conference chair Elise Stefanik of New York, who has been loyal to McCarthy but also has been keeping her mouth shut on this issue. Of course, she’s shown as much a lack of principle as McCarthy over the years.
At this point, who possibly could do it? The only person who has proven able to unify more than 200 members at any given time is Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries.
Sign if you agree: No more MAGA circus. Hakeem Jeffries for speaker.