Matt Gaetz just formally moved to oust Kevin McCarthy. The vote will be decided by House Democrats. Here’s how they’ll play it.

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This evening Matt Gaetz formally filed to have Kevin McCarthy removed as Speaker of the House. Gaetz would only need five votes from his side of the aisle, if all 213 House Democrats also vote to remove McCarthy. So how will House Democrats play this?

I obviously can’t tell you which route they’re going to go. But I can tell you exactly what parameters they’ll use for making such a decision. First, they’ll try to get a sense of whether House Republicans would have the 218 votes required to elect a replacement Speaker. If so, they’ll decide whether that new Speaker would be better or worse than McCarthy.

If House Democrats come to the conclusion that the Republicans won’t be able to come up with 218 votes for a new Speaker, this would set up a very different situation. If there ends up being no Speaker for awhile, the vulnerable House Republicans seeking reelection in toss-up races in 2024 (there are fourteen of them) would probably start to worry about their moderate constituencies blaming them for their party’s failure to have a Speaker of the House. In turn they would feel pressure to work with the Democrats on a “compromise” Speaker. It would probably be some kind of nonpartisan low profile individual who wouldn’t present a threat to either side.

So the first thing House Democrats will do is determine whether ousting McCarthy would likely lead to someone even worse than McCarthy, or would likely lead to a bipartisan compromise Speaker (who would obviously be better than McCarthy). House Democrats work a few feet from their House Republican counterparts, and can get a better sense than we can about what the Republican headcount truly looks like. There’s little point in any of us on the outside advocating for House Democrats to take one position on McCarthy or the other, given that we don’t even know what the options look like.

If House Democrats do determine that they’re better off with McCarthy than the alternative, they’re not going to bail him out for free. They’d insist upon significant binding concessions in return. He might in turn insist that those concessions be kept private, so he can retain a shred of public credibility. But they’d get something big out of him. We’re seeing the usual “I don’t trust McCarthy, it’s a trap” concerns expressed on social media, but that’s not reality. These very smart House Democrats are not going to get snookered by an idiot like McCarthy.

In short, House Democrats will figure out what the smartest move is, and then they’ll do it. They’ll do it in coordinated fashion, too. If the Democratic House leadership decides that House Democrats should unanimously vote for or against saving McCarthy, then that’s how the vote will go. Or the Democratic House could decide which way it wants the vote to go, but then allow a certain number of House Democrats to vote the other way based on how such a vote would play in each of their home districts. But the vote will ultimately go the way that Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and his mentor Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi want it to go. The Democratic House caucus is that well run of an entity.

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