“Group of Texas Republicans in U.S. House want to change the rules for removing a speaker” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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WASHINGTON — After a single Republican member of Congress instigated Kevin McCarthy’s removal as House speaker, a handful of Texas Republicans are trying to change the rules to make it impossible to happen again.
Under rules negotiated in January during McCarthy’s tumultuous first election, any member of the House can motion to vacate the chair — a procedural move that will force a vote to remove the speaker. That was how the process worked until 2019, when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi significantly raised the threshold. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, an ultraconservative Florida Republican with a notorious antipathy toward McCarthy, launched the vote this week to remove McCarthy, leading to the first time in American history that a speaker was actually ousted by the measure.
But some Texas Republicans are sick of the leverage the rule has had over the conference, saying it has pushed leadership into the hands of the most extreme right-wing members of the party.
“I voted NO on the rule in January due to the 1 member threshold to vacate the chair. After electing a Speaker, a rule change needs to be the first order of business,” U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, posted on social media Friday morning. Gonzales also said in January he opposed the rules package out of concern that an accompanying agreement to lower federal spending could impact defense funding.
A host of other Republican members, including U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Houston and Michael McCaul of Austin, signed onto a letter Thursday to the rest of the party demanding the conference “address fundamental changes to the structure of our majority to ensure success for the American people.”
“Ashamed and embarrassed by what happened on the Floor this week, we refuse to allow the eight members who abandoned and undermined our Conference to dictate every outcome in policy and personnel for the remainder of this Congress, including the upcoming selection of the Speaker of the House,” the letter said.
Forty-five members, including top McCarthy allies who bargained on his behalf during the January rules negotiations, signed onto the letter. The letter was distributed for signatures across members of the Main Street Caucus, a Republican group who styles itself as pragmatists.
It is not a new concern. The one-member threshold played a major role in Speaker John Boehner’s resignation in 2015, and McCarthy tried hard to avoid a similar situation for himself. The one-member threshold was one of the last concessions McCarthy gave to ultraconservative members in January who dissented his speakership without major rules changes to give the far-right a greater voice.
Crenshaw said at the time that he was deeply uncomfortable with the rules changes and frustrated that the far right was delaying the election of a speaker to milk out more influence.
“You have to remember the Democrats could do the same thing and stop our stuff,” Crenshaw said in a January interview. “Like, I don’t think they think through some of these things.”
He reiterated his point during a Texas Republican delegation lunch Wednesday, saying “a lot of members” still have concerns with the rules.
But the far-right members who first negotiated the rules package, which a handful of Texans had a key role in negotiating, don’t want it touched, saying it took back power from a tightly knit group of party leaders and is better in line with how the founders wanted the House to function. U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, a Victoria Republican who was one of the far-right members demanding concessions during the January speaker race, said Wednesday that the rules changes were meant to “rewrite the muscle memory of Congress.”
“Those are things that I would hope would outlast this term, and frankly, would outlast my service here,” Cloud said in a brief interview. So any pushes to change the rules back “would be a concern. That’s a concern that I wake up with every single day.”
No Texas Republicans voted Tuesday to remove McCarthy.
Under Pelosi, the majority of a party caucus had to support a motion to vacate for a vote to take place on the floor. Pelosi created the higher threshold after witnessing Boehner’s departure and facing her own challenge in 2019, when 15 Democrats voted either against her speakership or voted present. She still won enough votes to be elected that year, but had to promise not to serve as speaker for more than four more years. Pelosi stepped down from party leadership and handed the baton to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries this year.
A new vote on updating the rules would have to happen after the House elects its new speaker. Republicans are planning a House-wide vote Wednesday for the position, but there’s no guarantee it will end smoothly in a single vote — or day.
Three Republicans are openly vying for the spot: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan and Republican Study Committee Chair Kevin Hern. Scalise is already in leadership, with experience serving as McCarthy’s top lieutenant. Jordan is a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Neither have commented so far on how they would deal with a rule change to the motion to vacate.
Hern defended the rule as precedent, and said he had no plans to change the rule, though he was open to hearing arguments for doing so.
“Listen, this was that way for 200 years,” Hern said. “Only Pelosi changed it to protect herself and to make bad policy.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/10/06/texans-rule-change-house-speaker/.
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