House Republicans Must Preserve the Motion to Vacate the Chair

When the 115th Congress convenes in January, the House of Representatives may vote on a rules package that guts a powerful tool that allows members of the lower chamber to keep the speaker in check.

In September, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., proposed a change to the rules of the House that would dissolve the privileged status of the "motion to vacate the chair," which allows any member of the House to introduce a resolution to depose the speaker. Under the current rules of the House, the resolution must receive a vote by the full chamber.

The proposal put forward by Nunes would require a majority of either party’s conference to support the motion before it can move forward. Because party conferences are controlled by either the speaker or the minority leader, the motion to vacate the chair would essentially become an empty threat.

There’s no question that this is what Nunes wants.

Sadly, it’s part of a pattern from the California Republican. Nunes has expressed his contempt on more than one occasion for his conservative colleagues in the House, calling them "lemmings with suicide vests" and "right-wing Marxists." He also referred to Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a principled constitutional conservative and opponent of domestic-surveillance programs, as "al-Qaeda’s best friend in Congress" and raised money for Amash’s unsuccessful 2014 primary challenger.

With Republicans like Nunes, who needs Democrats?

The motion to vacate the chair is the sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of whoever happens to hold the office. If a speaker begins to lose his or her way and act in a manner that harms the House, this procedural tool serves as a vital accountability mechanism.