The Speaker of the House’s chair was empty in January during the multiple rounds of voting.
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If Speaker Kevin McCarthy is ousted, his immediate successor is currently a secret.
Under House rules, McCarthy previously turned over a list of potential temporary successors that would lead the chamber.
McCarthy is facing the possibility of becoming the first speaker to be booted from power.
If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is ousted from power, the American people do not currently know who would step in to temporarily lead one of the two houses of Congress.
Republican Rep. Matt Gatez of Florida is leading a historic effort to oust McCarthy. As of Tuesday afternoon, it appears Gaetz could be successful, given that McCarthy can only afford to lose four GOP votes.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has signaled Democrats would not try to rescue McCarthy, lending further likelihood to his removal. Never in American history has the Speaker of the House been removed from power. In 1910, Speaker Joseph Cannon survived a challenge commonly referred to as “a motion to vacate” but was weakened as a result.
Under House rules, McCarthy was required to turn over to the House clerk a list of members that could temporarily serve as Speaker of the House if he is ousted from power or if the office becomes vacant. The list is secret, but the power would allow a lawmaker of McCarthy’s choosing to temporarily exercise the powers of the speakership. The rules do require that the speaker pro tempore must be a current member of the House.
The speakership is more than just one of the most powerful posts in Congress. The House speaker is also second in line to the presidency, after the vice president.
A congressional rules expert pointed out that this temporary speaker could theoretically remain in power.
“The Speaker pro tem could stay in the chair,” Josh Huder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “There’s not [a] forcing mechanism for a new election, nor are there any overt restrictions on the power the pro tem would wield. The support of the conference would dictate the durability of this.”
McCarthy became speaker in January after a historic 15-ballot struggle. He has vowed to continue to fight to lead the chamber even if Gaetz is successful. Technically speaking, McCarthy could still run to be speaker after he is ousted, though he has not specifically declared he would do so. The California Republican has focused his efforts thus far on defeating Gaetz’s effort.
Gaetz and other far-right House Republicans have long had a tenuous relationship with McCarthy.
Those tensions exploded after McCarthy moved to avert a government shutdown by passing a 45-day stopgap measure to keep the federal government funded. McCarthy had to rely on House Democrats to pass the funding after 90 House Republicans opposed the resolution.