There can never be too much chaos for Rep. Matt Gaetz and his malignant cohorts. With this weekend’s government shutdown now seeming inevitable, the Florida Republican and some of his unnamed compatriots are plotting to try to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as early as next week, according to The Washington Post.
A shutdown isn’t enough disruption, nor is their trainwreck of an impeachment inquiry inquiry, so these hard-liners want to make the House an even more ridiculously dysfunctional place. There’s a real underpants-gnome vibe to the endeavor, with phase two of the plot—whom they’ll replace McCarthy with—currently a mystery. The only name seriously floated to the Post is Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, who told the Post, “I fully support Speaker McCarthy. He knows that and I know that. … I have zero interest in palace intrigue. End of discussion.”
The other question is whether they’re capable of pulling it off. The House procedure is called a “motion to vacate,” and it has been voted on only once in American history—and it failed. In 1910, Speaker Joseph Cannon survived the vote, though his leadership was weakened. Later, in 1997, rebels plotting against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich talked about using it, but they never filed the motion. The only other time the motion has been filed was in 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows (yeah, that Mark Meadows) filed it against then-Speaker John Boehner, but it was never deployed. Boehner ultimately resigned.
A successful motion to vacate is clearly not an easy thing to pull off. Is this the crew that will make history and be the first to succeed? It’s just possible that McCarthy and team are hapless enough that it could happen. But what the hard-liners should worry about are the potential consequences: empowered Democrats.
McCarthy has brushed off any suggestion of getting help from Democrats to save his speakership, and in turn, Democrats aren’t in a hurry to rush to his defense. "I cannot imagine him paying the price that it would take for us to bail him out," Rep. Jared Huffman of California told Axios.
That price would be steep. "We want to get disaster aid out, we want to continue our support for Ukraine, and we want them to end this sham of an impeachment inquiry," Minority Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts told Politico last week. "If Kevin McCarthy chooses to ... get back to work for the American people, to do the right thing, we're going to be there to, you know, meet and compromise with him."
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries is playing it very cool. He rejected “the notion that any of us would be dealing with inside parlor games when we’re trying to stop the extreme MAGA Republicans,” according to Axios. “I haven’t given it any thought,” he added.
McCarthy needs 217 votes out of his current 221-seat majority to save his speakership. (There are two vacancies in the House.) Presuming Gaetz can count, he won’t bring the motion to vacate unless he’s got four Republican members on his side willing to abandon McCarthy so the ploy can potentially succeed. However, Gaetz can’t and shouldn’t count on Democrats to help him—they can sit this one out by voting “present,” or they can vote to keep McCarthy.
That puts a lot of power into the hands of the 212 Democrats and the “Biden 18”—the freshmen Republicans in districts President Joe Biden won in 2020. If just four of them play their cards right—and cross the aisle on a vote—they could find themselves in a fairly comfortable position with Speaker Hakeem Jeffries. At the very least, they wouldn’t be blamed for the next government shutdown.
It’s a long shot that any of this ends with a Democratic speaker, but the only thing that’s predictable amid the chaos in the House is the unpredictable.
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