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Historic Speakership Vacancy Causes Chaos, Continuing Political Infighting

Political+science+students+have+been+discussing+former+President+Trump%E2%80%99s+investigations.
Brian Luppy
Political science students have been discussing former President Trump’s investigations.

While it may be a game show most did not request or really want, the House of Representatives is once again playing “Who Wants To Be A Speaker of the House?” for the second time this year. Speakership elections have occurred in Congress’ upper house, but this one is occurring under far different circumstances.

California congressman Kevin McCarthy endured masochistic levels of humiliation in January through 14 separate speakership elections before finally winning the gavel on lucky number 15, after conceding on multiple issues to holdout members of his party within the Freedom Caucus – Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz. Among those concessions? The ability for any member of the House to call for a motion to vacate the Speakership. This is something that has been attempted twice in the country’s history, both times unsuccessfully.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Erinn Lauterbach says that while this was a rule change made by the House, the House could theoretically undo it, it’s unknown just how much such a rule can affect the power of the Speakership position, but not in a completely foreign way.

“So, there is a chance that all this weakens the position of Speaker, but the implications of that only [really impact] the House [but] Speakers have had different levels of power throughout history,” Lauterbach said.

An outcome that almost seemed inevitable by conceding such a major rule finally took place when Gaetz called for the motion on Oct. 2, following McCarthy working with Democrats to pass a bipartisan continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown, a move that infuriated far-right Republicans. Despite the recent show of bipartisanship, Democrats had no intent of bailing McCarthy’s speakership out as all 208 Democrats present voted to vacate, along with seven republicans and Gaetz, the leader of this internal rebellion, who broke party lines to vacate the speakership and ended Kevin McCarthy’s tenure in less than a year. 

Patrick McHenry, first on McCarthy’s succession list, became speaker pro tempore. This is a position he’ll hold until such time as a new speaker is elected. If recent days are any indication, that will be no time soon, thus paralyzing the House from taking any action. 

However, we’re in uncharted waters, and the language that was written for a speaker pro tempe is broad and ambiguous, according to Lauterbach, thus making it open to discussion on how much power McHenry has. 

While there were Republicans who simply wanted to consolidate power and give McHenry expanded abilities, that proposal died a quick death this past week in the midst of floor votes. However, if a speaker is unable to be found or McHenry’s powerless pro-tempe reign continues, Lauterbach says that constitutionally, it’s not a problem.

“The power the Speaker has is decided by members of the House,” Lauterbach said. “While the Constitution sets the requirement for a Speaker in Article 1 Section 2, a Speaker Pro Tempore who acts largely as a parliamentarian does not violate the Constitution.”

As of this writing, republicans have been unable to find unity on a candidate with Louisiana congressman Steve Scalise first throwing his hat in the ring, but Scalise could not consolidate the needed 218 Republican votes, and thus withdrew his name. 

That seemingly cleared the way for Ohio Congressman, staunch Trump supporter and noted 2020 election-denier Jim Jordan to launch a bid and a floor vote – three of which yielded no gavel for Jordan. The far-right republican lacked the 20-needed republican votes on the first floor vote and lost even more on the second and third vote. In opposition to the infighting of the Republican party, Democrats have been united behind House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, with the New York congressman even holding more votes than Jordan in both floor votes.

Jordan was removed as speaker-designate in a secret ballot done by Republicans this past Friday and now, as of Tuesday, the party has settled on another nominee to bring to the floor, this time in Majority Whip Tom Emmer. However, Emmer still had 26 Republicans against him in conference, still far short of the number needed to get the gavel, with no answers to how long he’ll continue his bid for Speakership.

At this point, one is left to only wonder what in the world Gaetz was thinking by bringing this motion to vacate, as to all political watchers (regardless of party), it appears as if it was aimless. Not only has it left the House in chaos, the Republicans running in circles, it’s even endangered Gaetz as rumors swirl over his possible removal from the House as political retribution for ending McCarthy’s speakership. 

As Lauterbach puts it, while elections midway through a Congress for Speaker have happened before, challenges to elections such as we’ve seen haven’t happened since the 1800s and never before because of a motion to vacate.

“It’s the first time in history that this is happening in this way, so I always tell my students that when political pundits say something is unprecedented, it hasn’t happened recently,” Lauterbach said, “But this has actually never happened before.”

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Finn Courtney, Co-News Editor
Finn Courtney is a freshman Communications and Political Science double major and is entering his first year as one of the Co-News editors for 2024. With a passion for politics and sports, Finn's been a writer for as long as he can remember, was a four-year editor and leader on his high school paper and as a freshman has covered a variety of stories for The Villanovan, City of Basketball Love, and has been reposted in the Philadelphia Inquirer. When he's not typing up a story or filming with Villanova Television, you can surely catch him procrastinating on something, watching a Mets game (it's their year!) or trying to just live life to the fullest.
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