What is a ‘motion to vacate’, the procedure that ousted Kevin McCarthy?

<span>Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The Republican US House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, has been removed from office after a move by members of his own party to oust him because he passed a stopgap funding measure with Democratic support to avoid a government shutdown.

The end of his speakership came on Tuesday after representative Matt Gaetz, a hardline Republican lawmaker, filed what is called the “motion to vacate”.

Here’s a quick look at what a motion to vacate is and how it works.

What is a motion to vacate?

The motion to vacate is the House’s procedure to remove its speaker. The chamber’s current rules allow any one member, Democrat or Republican, to introduce the motion. If it is introduced as a “privileged” resolution, the House must consider it at some point, although it could be delayed with procedural votes.

It only needs a simple majority to pass. The motion to vacate passed with 216 to 210 votes.

How can one member do this?

McCarthy endured a brutal 15 rounds of voting in January before being elected as speaker, during which he agreed to multiple concessions increasing the power of Republican hardliners.

One was the decision to allow just one member to put forward a motion to vacate, which meant that hardliners could threaten McCarthy’s speakership at any time.

This was a change from the rules in place under his Democratic predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, when a majority of one party needed to support a motion to vacate to bring it to the floor.

Who was behind the push to oust McCarthy?

The Republican representative Gaetz, a firebrand from Florida and perpetual thorn in McCarthy’s side, had repeatedly threatened to file a motion to vacate. The speaker has been unfazed. In a 14 September closed-door meeting of House Republicans, McCarthy dared Gaetz to bring a motion to the floor.

Has the motion to vacate been used before?

The motion was first used in 1910, when the Republican speaker Joseph Cannon put forward the motion himself to force detractors in his own party to decide whether they supported him or not, according to the House Archives. The motion failed.

In 1997 the Republican speaker Newt Gingrich was threatened with a motion to vacate. Although he managed to tamp down resistance and avoid an actual resolution being filed, he resigned in 1998 after disappointing results in the midterm elections that year.

In 2015 Republican the representative Mark Meadows filed a motion to vacate against the Republican speaker John Boehner. It did not come to a vote, but Boehner resigned a few months later, citing the challenges of managing a burgeoning hardline conservative faction of his party.

McCarthy has become the first House speaker in US history to have been removed from office.