And Republicans would need to get a majority of the House to win on any motion to replace Pelosi. Republicans hold only 198 seats, versus 232 for Democrats, making it far easier for Democrats to hit McCarthy than the other way around.
McCarthy huddled Wednesday with Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and other members of the conservative group, who argue that Pelosi should be removed from her post for leading the effort to impeach President Donald Trump, not allowing more floor votes on amendments and calling Republicans who support Trump “domestic enemies,” among other things.
While the chances of the procedural motion succeeding are next to zero, if McCarthy pulls the trigger it could destroy his relationship with Pelosi, who reclaimed the gavel last year after quashing a mini-rebellion inside the Democratic caucus to deny her the speakership. Still, Pelosi lost 15 Democrats in the floor vote, including incumbents who had vowed to oppose her and freshmen from Republican-leaning districts who are now facing tough reelection battles this November.
The GOP is once again trying to make support for Pelosi a problem for Democrats in key swing districts, and hard-liners believe a vote on the motion to vacate right before the November election would give the issue new life. But there is no sign Pelosi is any less popular with Democrats than she was when she clinched the speaker’s gavel two years ago, and the GOP’s repeated efforts to make Pelosi a political liability for Democrats have failed spectacularly in recent years.
Signing off on a motion to vacate, however, could have another added benefit for McCarthy: It would help him earn major points with House conservatives, whose support will be crucial in any leadership bid post-November. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus co-founder, challenged McCarthy for the minority leader position in 2018, but the two have improved their relationship since then.
The hard-line Freedom Caucus has a long history with using a motion to vacate to go after House leaders. Former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), now Trump’s chief of staff, once filed a motion to vacate against former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); it never received a vote on the House floor but Boehner soon resigned. And the House Freedom Caucus often dangled the procedural tool as a threat during former Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) tenure.
Democrats, however, changed the rules on the motion to vacate at the beginning of this Congress. “A resolution causing a vacancy in the Office of Speaker shall not be privileged except if offered by direction of a party caucus or conference,” the rule states.
Pelosi’s office did not respond to a request for a comment.
A senior Democratic aide said the majority party may offer a censure motion or formal reprimand if McCarthy “needlessly brings discredit on the House” for partisan reasons.
Democrats also accuse Republicans of taking Pelosi’s “domestic enemies” quote out of context for a political stunt. During an Aug. 24 appearance on MSNBC to discuss Trump’s opposition to mail-in voting, Pelosi said, “We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. And sadly, the domestic enemies to our voting system and our honoring our Constitution are right at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, with their allies in the Congress of the United States.”
The aide added that Democrats had treated Republicans fairly when it came to amendments. Democrats have made 2,588 amendments in order so far this Congress and 972 of them had a Republican sponsor or cosponsor. Last Congress, Republicans made in order a total of 1,671 amendments, the aide said, and 1,028 amendments had a Democratic sponsor or co-sponsor by this time.