What happens when there is no Speaker of the House of Representatives?
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was booted from his seat on Tuesday, after Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), irritable about the failure to shut down the government, called for a vote to vacate the seat.
After debate on the floor, with several Republicans standing to beg their fellow legislators to save the Speaker, a vote was held, and it didn’t go well for McCarthy.
Several Republicans called out Gaetz for being an agent of chaos, which he rebutted with an argument that McCarthy’s leadership was the real chaos.
In the end, a handful of Republicans, and a united front of Democrats, voted to vacate the seat — ending with 216 House Members calling for McCarthy to step down, and 210 voting to keep him as Speaker.
Democrats expressed their own reasons for refusing to come to McCarthy’s aid, including his failure to uphold a budget deal made with President Joe Biden.
Republicans, too, had more reasons than merely his refusal to shut down the government and the pique of Matt Gaetz. The New York Times reports:
“Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters she voted to oust McCarthy because of broken promises he made. ‘As a fiscal conservative, I’m angry. As a woman, I’m deeply frustrated,’ she said, saying McCarthy had promised, among other things, to help women gain greater access to birth control after Roe v. Wade was overturned, but had failed to do so.”
It’s not likely Republicans will nominate someone who will be more willing to protect reproductive rights.
This raises the important question, though — what does the vacant seat mean?
Well, the House will still be able to get on with most of its business.
House rules required McCarthy to name temporary replacements who could step up in case of a vacant seat, and North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry, as the first on the list, immediately took over, announced his role as acting Speaker pro tempore, and gaveled the chamber fiercely into recess. (See clip below.)
However, McHenry reportedly does not take McCarthy’s place as third in succession to the presidency. Though the House Speaker does stand in line to step in if the President and Vice President are both incapacitated, a temporary acting fill-in Speaker does not, according to Punchbowl News political correspondent Andrew Desiderio.
McHenry could be in the role quite briefly if Republicans can reach an agreement to make a new appointment.
They could make more behind-the-scenes deals (as they did when it took 15 rounds of voting to seat McCarthy the first time) and return McCarthy to the seat — or they could pick someone else if they can agree on just who that would be.
Watch the vote results below.
Vote to Remove Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House Succeeds: 216-210
“The office of Speaker of the House is hereby declared vacant” pic.twitter.com/abEGbZdCxQ
— Acyn (@Acyn) October 3, 2023
Representative McHenry get his first slam at the gavel.
Under House rules, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) has assumed the role of Speaker Pro Tempore, which he will hold until and unless a new Speaker is elected by the House.
His first act was gaveling out of session. pic.twitter.com/bCO5Tunbsn
— The Recount (@therecount) October 3, 2023
Steph Bazzle covers politics and theocracy, always aiming for a world free from extremism and authoritarianism. Follow Steph on Twitter @imjustasteph.