How a chairman of the House of Representatives can be impeached with a ‘motion to evict’


WASHINGTON — In his bid to become Speaker of the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy made a number of concessions to gain the support of Republicans who initially opposed him. One was a rule change that allowed only one member to attempt to force him out of office.

Under the new house rules passed Monday, only one member of Congress — Democrat or Republican — is needed to file a “motion to evict,” requiring a vote to remove the speaker. It would only take a simple majority of the House to oust McCarthy.

Here’s what you need to know about how a motion to vacate would work and the history of the maneuver:

How does an eviction request work?

Under the newly passed rule, any member of the House “could introduce a privileged resolution to declare the office of Speaker vacant.” The term “privileged” here refers to a matter that takes precedence over regular House matters, meaning it is more urgent and must be taken to the House floor for a vote.

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This is not limited to Republican members; Democrats could also file the motion to leave.

Procedural votes could be offered to delay the motion, but if it does pass, it would only take a simple majority of the House — or currently 218 members — to pass.

In theory, a small group of Republicans who want to impeach the speaker could work with Democrats to get the votes needed to remove the speaker.

Where did the motion to leave come from?

The Constitution says nothing about impeaching a speaker. In fact, “The House of Representatives will elect their Speaker” is the only mention of the top job in the entire document. What the Constitution does say is that the House makes its own rules.

Most of those rules are based on “Jefferson’s Manual”, which the House adopted in 1837 as a guideline for parliamentary procedure. “A speaker may be removed at the request of the House,” the manual states. However, it was Chairman Joseph Cannon in 1910 who first used the motion to leave as it is known today.

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The speaker was then also chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. In a revolt against “Tsar Cannon,” progressive Republicans successfully stripped him of his place on the rules. In a March 19 speech on the House floor, Cannon said he had only two options: resign or “declare a vacancy in Speaker’s office.” .”

By offering the motion to impeach himself, Cannon put his opponents on the map. Republicans voted overwhelmingly to keep him in office. “Cannon, stripped of power, takes office,” headlined The New York Times the next day.

Has the motion for eviction been used recently?

Republicans considered using the motion to leave against their own leader, Speaker Newt Gingrich, in 1997, but decided against it.

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The next case came in July 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who later became President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, tried to impeach Speaker John Boehner.

As Meadows filed a motion to leave, he said he hoped it would never come to a vote, and it never did. Boehner resigned as speaker several months later.

The threshold for filing an eviction motion remained with just one congressman until 2019, when the Democrats won the majority. That year, the House changed the rules so that a vacancy resolution could only be introduced “if presented at the direction of a party caucus or conference”—a much higher bar.

The new set of rules, passed by the House on Monday night, changes the procedure for a motion to return to what it was before, giving any member the power to bring it forward.

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