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Progressive Democrats are planning to remove McCarthy as House Speaker

By Sarah May on
 January 16, 2023

After offering numerous concessions to holdouts within his own party in order to secure the speaker's gavel, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is now with threats from progressives in the chamber to use one of those compromises against him, namely, the ability to easily seek his removal, as Politico reports.

As issue is the possible use of a “motion to vacate,” the rules of which dictate the threshold of support necessary to prompt a vote on whether the speaker should remain in power – a bar McCarthy himself agreed to lower.

McCarthy's concession

NPR reported that the rules package applicable to the 118th Congress was approved earlier this month in near party-line fashion, the outlet explained its implications for potential challenges to McCarthy's leadership.

Under the new rules, the initiative of just one member – Republican or Democrat – is needed to sponsor a motion to remove the speaker, whereas under the old rules, a majority of either party was necessary.

Though McCarthy himself had sought to change the threshold to require five members in order to advance such a motion, such arrangements proved unsatisfactory to conservative holdouts who thwarted his ascension to the speaker's chair for 14 rounds of balloting.

While the change certainly eased the way for McCarthy to eventually become speaker, it also sets the stage for potential complications from the far-left wing of the Democratic Party, as Politico notes.

Progressives ponder moves

With the new rules in place, a number of far-left Democrats have signaled their willingness to take full advantage of the ability to cause problems for McCarthy, even if they realize they stand little chance of actually unseating him.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is among those pondering the potential of sponsoring a motion to vacate, saying, according to Politico, “Why not? You know that sounds like a good idea. I mean, you're still going to need what 218 for passage, right? But listen man, [McCarthy] has a very slim majority.”

“Whenever we want to cause complete chaos, we'll do that,” warned Bowman.

Liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said of the option, “All of these procedural mechanisms are merely tools, and so it's about when it's appropriate to reach for a certain tool. It's really a matter of when it may be appropriate.”

However, not all Democrats are ready to pounce quite yet, with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) tamping down the idea by saying, “It's the furthest thing from my mind at this point.”

Progressive Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) also noted the limited ability of the motion itself to make a great deal of difference, saying, “I wouldn't just use it just to use it as a symbolic-type thing,” acknowledging that Democrats would still have to marshal “the votes to actually make it work” but also adding that “it's not off the table.”

Republicans watch and wait

Despite the potential for far-left Democrats to wreak all sorts of highly visible havoc during McCarthy's tenure, some Republicans have voiced their approval of the rule change – or at least registered a lack of serious concern over it.

As NPR noted, Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) declared on the House floor that the new threshold for the motion to vacate is a positive development, particularly given the reservations many of his colleagues have harbored about McCarthy, saying, “By restoring this historic rule, every solitary member has the authority to hold the speaker accountable for following all of the rules.”

Earlier this month, as The Hill noted, Rep. James Comer (R-KY) did not discount the possibility that a motion to vacate would indeed be launched against McCarthy at some point in the next two years but downplayed the true risk to the new speaker.

Comer said, “I'm not convinced we can go the entire Congress without having it. But I believe that if that's used, I believe that right now, the overwhelming majority...of Republicans realize that Kevin McCarthy needs a chance to govern, and we're going to give him a chance.”

“I'm not going to say there won't be one person who tries to abuse that motion, but I'm confident that McCarthy's going to be able to be given the green light to govern and to lead this conference and do the things we told the American people we were going to do during the midterm elections,” Comer continued.

Though the 118th Congress is barely underway, this rule change and others pertaining to committee representation, spending caps, and ethics probes have certainly made the new legislative session one to watch.