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Who’s the boss?

House Republicans wrangle over a new speaker

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. (left), talks with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, at the Capitol in Washington yesterday. Associated Press/Photo by Alex Brandon

Who’s the boss?

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., floated the idea of taking the entire GOP conference on a field trip to work out their differences away from the tensions of Capitol Hill.

“It sounds silly, but let’s go to Gettysburg,” he said. “Let’s go to somewhere that is meaningful to our nation’s history so that the Republican Party can once again remember why we do what we do. We need to sequester ourselves somewhere else outside the beltway.”

After verbal infighting behind and in front of closed doors this week, it might not be a bad idea.

In a three-plus-hour GOP conference meeting today, shouting matches broke out as lawmakers failed to determine the next steps. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., left midway to pray in the Capitol’s chapel, noting that “temperatures are really high.” Republicans are considering two options to break the stalemate.

Option 1: Empower McHenry

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s last act before being ousted was to fill his seat with an interim, called a speaker pro tempore. Until something changes, the role falls to Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. During Kevin McCarthy’s speakership, McHenry served as his right-hand negotiator. As a way to buy time, Republicans are considering passing a resolution to keep the gavel with McHenry instead of trying to elect a new speaker right away.

McCarthy has voted for Jordan but has also endorsed expanding McHenry’s powers in the interim.

“When I put McHenry’s name down it was my belief that if something happened to me that McHenry could run the floor until we elected a new speaker,” McCarthy told reporters on Thursday. “I wanted someone who could work with all sides. McHenry is ideal for all that—he understands how Congress works [and] he has respect on both sides of the aisle. He could carry out the job.”

But not all Republicans are on board with the idea. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., who up until last week was a contender for speaker himself, said he won’t vote to expand McHenry’s role.

“We should focus on electing a new speaker,” he said moments after the Republican closed-door meeting.

McHenry himself has said he does not want to be the permanent speaker. But in the absence of a nominee who can win a minimum of 217 votes, the House has stalled. It has less than a month to vote to avoid another government shutdown, and it still cannot consider any legislation related to the war in Israel.

Option 2: Keep voting

Jordan could not muster enough support in a conference meeting on Thursday to become the speaker-designee. He supported a resolution to empower McHenry “as a way to lower the temperature,” but that also failed. Leaving the meeting, he said he wants a third vote.

“I’m still running for speaker, and I plan to go to the floor and get the votes and win this race,” Jordan told reporters on Thursday. “But I want to go talk with a few of my colleagues. In particular, I want to talk with the 20 individuals who voted against me so that we can move forward and begin to work.”

Who’s against Jordan?

He lost two more votes between the first and second rounds of speaker voting, and other supporters indicated they would jump ship if he continued to lose ballots. Jordan is a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, which spearheaded the effort to vacate the speaker’s chair in the first place. Other Republicans are upset with this group for defying the majority of the conference. They do not want to give the caucus another win.

An intense pressure campaign for Jordan has also soured members. Fox News host Sean Hannity and his staff sent messages to members of Congress last week asking them to support Jordan and get the House open soon. After Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, switched her vote away from Jordan, she said she received death threats. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said his wife has received anonymous text messages demanding she force her husband to vote for Jordan. Now those members are pushing back.

“I will not be intimidated,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said on Tuesday.

Meeks wrote in a statement, “One thing I cannot stomach or support is a bully.”

The extra time gives other challengers the opportunity to contend for the seat. Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., dropped his bid last week but has strong support within the conference. Other McCarthy loyalists are asking him to return.

What’s the status across the aisle?

Democrats find themselves in an awkward position. They all voted along with eight House Freedom Caucus members to oust McCarthy, opting not to help him out as they did with passing a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Democrats refuse to support Jordan because he voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results. They’re not opposed to McHenry, though.

“I’m not voting for McHenry,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., told reporters outside a party conference meeting on Thursday. “But he’s there. Giving him powers so that the House can do the peoples’ business … that’s what I’m supporting.”

But that resolution can only come if Republicans introduce it. And House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., has not confirmed whether he would direct his caucus to support it. Up until now, Democrats have said it’s up to the Republicans to sort out the vacancy on their own.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD reporter covering politics in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Patrick Henry College.

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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