Can Boehner Be Removed From Office?

If Speaker Boehner allows the House to vote on a “clean” continuing resolution with the idea of allowing it to pass with a majority of Democratic votes, can he be removed as Speaker in the 113th Congress?

As of this writing it appears that a government shutdown is inevitable.  The only realistic, albeit remote possibility of averting one appears to lie with Speaker Boehner, if he chooses to allow the House to vote on a clean continuing resolution, when it is ping ponged back from the Senate later today.  It could then pass with a majority of Democratic votes, and only a handful of Republican votes.

It’s been speculated that if the Speaker were to do so, it would mean the end to his speakership, which raises the question of whether a sitting Speaker can be removed from office.  The answer is it’s not clear, and it’s never been done.

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution establishes the position, and states that “The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.”  Neither the Constitution nor the rules of the 113th Congress state anything specific about removing the Speaker.

The Jefferson Manual, written by Thomas Jefferson when he was Vice President, and used by the House as a supplement to its standing rules, in Section 9 states that “A Speaker may be removed at the will of the House and a Speaker pro tempore appointed.” But even that clause may not necessarily apply to removing a Speaker, as it follows examples of Speakers being replaced due to illness, and the appointing of Speakers pro tempore in those instances.

Nevertheless, it’s generally believed that a Speaker can be removed, which would be executed by a Member offering a resolution declaring the Office of the Speaker vacant.  Such a resolution would be considered a question of constitutional privilege, and therefore a privileged motion, although again, it’s never been done.  So the answer is there is no explicit procedure for removing a Speaker either in the Constitution or in the Rules of the House of Representatives for the 113th Congress.

For context, read how the House tried to limit Speaker Joe Cannon’s power in 1910

Gold_100Kenneth Gold is Director of the Government Affairs Institute.