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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Vacating the Chair

Louis Jacobson at PolitiFact:
If the new Congress ends up at 218 Republicans and 217 Democrats, that would be the narrowest possible divide, as long as there are no third-party members in the 435-seat House (and none were elected in 2022). Then, it would take only the subtraction of two sitting Republicans, such as by death or resignation, to leave Democrats with a numerical majority of 217-216. If the GOP starts with a slightly wider majority of 219-216, Republicans would need to suffer four vacancies to fall behind Democrats. And so on.

House rules are approved every two years. Under current rules, if a Republican majority loses members, Democrats could make a parliamentary maneuver called a "motion to vacate the chair." If this motion passes, the speakership becomes vacant and the House holds a new election for speaker.

A motion to vacate the chair came in 2015 during an internal Republican dispute. Then-Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., introduced such a motion to pressure then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. This motion was never formally considered, but the move alienated Boehner enough that he relinquished the speakership, paving the way for another Republican, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, to take the reins. (Meadows later became President Donald Trump’s chief of staff.)

Under current House rules, a motion to vacate the chair can be assured of a vote only if the party’s leader approves; it cannot come from a rank-and-file member of the party.

Sitting speakers today are unlikely to allow such a motion to proceed, because it would imperil their speakerships. However, a minority leader can also sign off on such a motion. That would enable a minority party with a temporary numerical edge to force a new speaker vote.

If a Republican speaker is ousted this way and a new Democratic speaker is installed, it could be months or more before Republicans have a chance at the speakership again. That’s because House vacancies must be filled by a special election, rather than by a gubernatorial appointment, as usually occurs in the Senate.

With special elections, holding primaries and general elections would be "difficult to pull off in less than three or four months," Evans said.