What is a motion to vacate?
A motion to vacate is the procedure used to remove the Speaker of the House. It’s a rarely used procedural tool that allows any Member of Congress to introduce a resolution, declaring the speakership to be vacant.
Once a member goes to the House floor to announce their intent to offer the resolution, the Speaker is required to put the resolution on the legislative schedule within two legislative days – forcing a floor vote on the motion to vacate.
Then, it just needs a simple majority to pass. If all Members are present and voting, a simple majority is 218 votes, but that number can shift due to vacancies or absences.
Wasn’t there a recent rule change on motions to vacate?
There have been a couple of changes in the last few years. In 2019, the House, led by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, changed the rule so that instead of any single member being able to bring a motion to vacate to the floor, it needed the support of a majority of one party in order to be brought to the floor for a vote.
But in his tumultuous and repeated bid for the speakership earlier this year, Kevin McCarthy caved to extreme MAGA Republican demands and agreed to restore the original rule. This set the stage for any one MAGA member of the House to be able to bring a motion to vacate to the floor at any time, creating a perpetual threat to McCarthy’s speakership. And that threat has been heightened as MAGA extremists in the House are increasingly unhappy with how McCarthy is handling negotiations over appropriations ahead of a government shutdown.
What happens next?
Once a motion to vacate is introduced, the Speaker is required to submit a confidential list to the House Clerk, naming the people who – in the case of a vacancy – should act as interim Speaker until a new Speaker is elected.
What happens if a motion to vacate succeeds?
It would be the first time in US history that a Speaker of the House was ousted through successful passage of a motion to vacate.
But if McCarthy is removed from his position as Speaker, the first person on the list he provided to the House Clerk will become the interim Speaker. The interim Speaker has limited authority and can only preside over the election of a new Speaker, which will require the House to vote as many times as necessary for someone to get to either 218 votes, or support from the majority of those who are present and voting. The interim Speaker is not able to bring up legislation for votes.