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Not Much Has Changed Since the Last House Speaker Challenge 100 Years Ago

Not Much Has Changed Since the Last House Speaker Challenge 100 Years Ago
Consolidated News Photos / Shutterstock

The last challenge to a Speaker of the House occurred in 1910, which resulted in a 29-hour debate and the position getting kneecapped.

Video Source: Advocate Channel

(CNN) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy could make history this week – though likely not in the way he wants.


With GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz saying Sunday he will attempt to oust McCarthy as Speaker, he would become the first to have his gavel challenged in over 100 years.

The last time the House took the floor for a vote challenging a Speaker of the House was on March 17, 1910.

Such a vote against McCarthy could come as soon as Monday when the House returns to the floor, with Gaetz telling CNN he intends “to file a motion to vacate against Speaker McCarthy this week. I think we need to rip off the Band-Aid. I think we need to move on with new leadership that will be trustworthy.”

In 1910, Rep. George Norris of Nebraska introduced a resolution to remove Speaker Joe Cannon from his post as chairman of the House Rules Committee, also known as the Speaker’s Committee – a critical committee for completing House business.

Norris, who did not like the speaker, requested a seat on the House’s Judiciary Committee, but Cannon – who also doled out committee assignments – dismissed Norris’ request, telling him to “get a reputation” first. Norris kept a pocket resolution to vacate Cannon from his job from then on.

When Norris finally filed his resolution, it set off a marathon 29-hour debate on the House floor, with admonishments hurled at fellow members who broke ranks either for or against removing Cannon from the committee, essentially kneecapping his power as speaker.

More than a full day after debate started on the constitutionality of Norris’ resolution, and facing removal, Cannon forced the issue and he himself moved that the chair be vacant. The measure failed and Cannon held onto the speakership, since a Republican majority would not vote for a Democratic speaker replacing him. But the House did overturn Cannon’s ruling, rejecting Norris’ initial motion to remove Cannon as rules chair and curtailing his abilities as speaker

A speakership challenge against McCarthy would not be the first time his tenuous relationship with a bloc of hardline conservatives made history.

In January, his race to be elected speaker of the House stretched to 15 votes, the longest contest for the gavel in 164 years. As part of a deal to secure the votes from the reluctant right wing of his party, McCarthy agreed to allow just one member to advance a motion to vacate.

Gaetz will now look to exploit that power after McCarthy made a sharp about-face Saturday and worked with Democrats to overwhelmingly pass a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown until at least mid-November. President Joe Biden, after the Senate also passed the resolution on a bipartisan basis, signed the bill just minutes before funding was set to expire at midnight.

“The only way Kevin McCarthy is speaker of the House at the end of this coming week is if Democrats bail him out. Now, they probably will. I actually think that when you believe in nothing as Kevin McCarthy does, everything’s negotiable and I think he’ll cut a deal with the Democrats,” Gaetz said.

McCarthy on Saturday told CNN’s Manu Raju at a press conference, “If somebody wants to make a motion against me, bring it.”

“There has to be an adult in the room. I am going to govern with what’s best for this country,” he added.

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