House Republicans try to make it harder for Speakers to be replaced

posted at 5:31 pm on October 8, 2016 by Taylor Millard

House Republicans appear to be trying to make it harder for rank-and-file revolts, like the one which caused John Boehner to step down last year, from happening again. California Congressman Devin Nunes told Roll Call, his proposal would keep leadership vacuums from happening.

The proposed change, offered by Rep. Devin Nunes, would end the privileged status of the motion to vacate that allows any member to call up the motion for a vote at any time. The California Republican is proposing that instead the majority or minority caucus must vote on the motion and that a majority of the caucus must approve it before it can be called up for a floor vote.

“We know the turmoil that can be created with a huge leadership vacuum in the Congress,” Nunes said. FreedomWorks CEO Adam Brandon isn’t happy with the proposal.

“The motion to vacate the chair is the most powerful tool members of the House have to ensure that the speaker is kept in check. It’s the sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of whomever happens to hold the office…Sadly, Rep. Nunes has been working to limit the democratic prerogatives of the members of the House of Representatives. [He] proposed a roadblock: before the motion [to remove the Speaker] can be brought up in the House, that member’s party conference in the House would have to sign off on moving ahead. And since these entities are controlled by either the speaker or the minority leader, approval just won’t happen. That is exactly what Rep. Nunes wants.”

Here’s the current rules from Jefferson’s Manual on how a Speaker gets removed from the position.

Sec. 315. Removal of the Speaker. A Speaker may be removed at the will of the House, and a Speaker pro tempore appointed, 2 Grey, 186; 5 Grey, 134.

Want to know how many times a Speaker has been removed by the “will of the House”? Zero. Zilch. Nada. There have been plenty of behind the scenes revolts like when South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney tried to get Boehner removed last summer, even though a vote never happened. Newt Gingrich resigned in 1997 after a failed revolt by House leadership (including Boehner). This isn’t congressmen and women challenging each other to duels, but the typical unhappiness with leadership the right is wont to have. It seems rather ridiculous for Nunes to suggest this change because of past history, and it’s just a way for those in power to tamp down on revolts.

The House should obviously reject this rule change, but how should voters feel? This fight is all pretty much inside baseball and it’s doubtful the typical Tom, Dick, and Harry really care about what goes on inside the chambers of Congress. This is why it’s up to activists to message appropriately for audiences on how this affects the average person who doesn’t care about politics. It’s not an easy sale, and maybe the best way to tackle this is through the local electoral process. Talk to your own congressman on how he or she feels about potential rule changes. Encourage congressmen to hold town halls where they can hear from their constituents and get to know their staff and advisers. Press them on the issue without being jerky about it. Keep congressmen and women accountable when they cast votes which go against their stated values. That at least shows people are paying attention to what their so-called leaders are doing behind closed doors.

So no, Congress shouldn’t make this change to the House rules, and kudos to FreedomWorks for paying attention to what was being considered. It’s now up to us to contact our own representatives to make sure this doesn’t happen.


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