Center for Effective Lawmaking

Tom Wickham: Motion To Vacate Explained

Tom Wickham: Motion To Vacate Explained

On March 22, 2024, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene took procedural steps toward removing Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. This activity comes just six months after Speaker Kevin McCarthy was removed from the Speaker’s post in the House and Representative Johnson was elected Speaker. To provide insights, Tom Wickham, former Parliamentarian of the House who now serves as Senior Vice President at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a Center for Effective Lawmaking Advisory Board Member, has given the following overview of where the situation stands:

We are seeing a lot of reports (some procedural, some political) on what Rep. Greene did. How would you explain it to students of the House?

In simplest terms, Rep. Greene did what occurs thousands of times a Congress – she introduced a piece of legislation. Like all other bills, it received a resolution number (H. Res, 1103) and was referred to a committee (Rules). However, the subject of Rep. Greene’s resolution is removal of the Speaker of the House and that triggers special procedures in the House when activated.

When “activated,” what does that mean?

First a little background: the Speaker is elected by the whole House and can be removed by the whole House. The resolution to remove the Speaker is so important that it is considered privileged and therefore can jump in front of other business when it is properly activated. The process only takes one Member to trigger it and a majority to adopt it. To activate a privileged matter, a Member must come to the House floor and give public notice of their intention to offer the resolution. These are the steps Rep. Matt Gaetz took in October of 2023 to activate a resolution that was eventually adopted by the House that removed Kevin McCarthy from the Speakership. Rep. Greene has only introduced a resolution and not taken steps to activate it.

Is there precedent for Rep. Greene’s more passive approach to removing the Speaker?

Yes. While any Member can introduce a resolution calling for the removal of the Speaker, they rarely do. Aside from the Gaetz resolution in October 2023, then Rep. Mark Meadows introduced a resolution removing Speaker John Boehner in July 2015 but never activated it. Speaker Boehner retired in October 2015.

What should students of the House be watching for next?

The House is currently on a two-week recess, so I think observers of the House will be mulling three things for their return: (1) Will Rep. Greene or another Member activate the motion to vacate and force a vote? (2) Will there be a renewed effort to change the rules so that it takes more than one Member to trigger this process? and (3) How will Members vote on an effort to change the rule or to remove the Speaker?

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