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If the GOP tried to force out Kevin McCarthy, would Dems save him?

If some House Republicans try to fire Kevin McCarthy, the speaker's fate would be in Democrats' hands. That's when things would get even more interesting.


It’s not exactly a secret that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is facing a contingent from his own conference that would like to fire him. These members — many of whom fought to deny the Californian the speaker’s gavel in the first place — even have a mechanism in mind to send McCarthy packing: The chamber’s motion-to-vacate-the-chair rules.

Rep. Matt Gaetz has positioned himself as the speaker’s most prominent intra-party foe, but the Florida Republican isn’t alone: Several GOP members have publicly flirted with the idea of forcing a vote on McCarthy’s ouster, and Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana took related steps yesterday, issuing a statement denouncing the “weak” speaker’s “lack of leadership.”

Such chatter has taken a toll on McCarthy. In fact, the frustration appeared to boil over last week during a closed-door House GOP meeting in which the speaker all but dared his Republican detractors to call the question and file the “motion to vacate.” McCarthy reportedly told his critics, “If you want to file a motion to vacate, then file the f---ing motion.”

At this point, it’s an open question as to when or whether this showdown will happen. But hanging overhead is a related mystery that’s just as notable: What would the House Democratic minority do if McCarthy’s Republican opponents followed through on their threats?

The Washington Post reported yesterday:

It would ultimately be up to Democrats to eject McCarthy from the speakership. If all Democrats voted with a handful of Republicans on a motion to vacate, McCarthy would lose his job. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told [the Post] that his caucus hasn’t yet discussed whether they would help McCarthy keep his job should Republicans try to oust him.

The procedural arithmetic is entirely straightforward: If a member were to file a motion to vacate the chair, House members would vote on whether to oust or keep the incumbent speaker. At that point, it would simply be a matter of majority rule: If most members voted to keep McCarthy in his current position, he’d remain speaker. If most members voted to take his gavel away, he’d be forced out and it’d be time to elect his successor.

In the current House — which has 433 members due to two vacancies — there are 212 House Democrats. If they stuck together and voted to fire McCarthy, it would only take five GOP members to break ranks and oust the speaker.

Are there are five House Republicans prepared to take such a step? Almost certainly yes, but the related questions are tougher to answer: Do House Democrats want to force McCarthy out? If so, how many Democrats would cast such a vote?

For now, that's a difficult question to answer with confidence, but there are two angles to this that I’d recommend keeping in mind.

The first is that Democrats really don’t like McCarthy. They see him as a weak and mindless partisan, who isn’t trustworthy, who doesn’t take governing seriously, and who’s too easily pushed around by radicals, Fox News, and a certain someone in Mar-a-Lago. The speaker’s willingness to launch a ridiculous impeachment inquiry targeting President Joe Biden managed to do fresh harm to his already sullied reputation.

The second is that Democrats worry that McCarthy’s successor might very well be worse. In fact, Axios quoted an unnamed House Democrat last week who said there’s “concern about more chaos, and who might take his place if he is booted.”

The incumbent speaker, the unidentified Democrat added, is “the devil you know.”

As the drama continues, don’t be surprised if a significant number of Democrats start weighing their options with interesting behind-the-scenes conversations. I suspect there will be quite a few Democratic members approaching Gaetz and McCarthy separately, asking about possible deals.

“It’s a nice gavel,” they’ll effectively say. “What would you say it’s worth?”