• Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

House speaker race: Republicans haven’t made real progress to solve the chaos

House speaker race: Republicans haven't made real progress to solve the chaos


A band of House Republicans made a historic move this week to punish their own leader, sending the House into chaos by ousting Kevin McCarthy as speaker. The unprecedented vote to oust McCarthy has only led to more turmoil in the days since as Republicans have grappled with the fallout of the speaker-less House.

On Thursday, former President Donald Trump was rumored to be going to Capitol Hill and floated the possibility of serving as speaker for a “short period of time” – a highly improbable idea. Then he abruptly changed course and scrapped those plans, endorsing Rep. Jim Jordan instead.

On Friday morning, a candidate forum on Fox News with Jordan and Majority Leader Steve Scalise was announced for Monday. By midday, furious backlash from GOP rank-and-file caused both to pull out from the event.

And McCarthy provided his own whipsaw Friday afternoon, when a flurry of reports emerged that he would resign after a new speaker was chosen. He quickly denied to reporters that he had any plans to leave before the end of his term.

House Republicans will return to Washington, DC, next week hopeful they can select a new speaker and turn the page on one of the most chaotic and unprecedented weeks in the history of the lower chamber. But there’s no indication Republicans are any closer to escaping the chaos and deep divisions that led to the historic ouster of McCarthy in the first place.

Over the past four days, Scalise and Jordan have racked up endorsements from their allies to try to position themselves as the consensus GOP candidate heading into next week’s secret ballot in the Republican conference to be the next speaker. Their efforts are running into the reality, however, that no matter who wins the conference vote, the next GOP speaker will need almost every Republican to coalesce around them in order to obtain the 217 votes on the floor required to win the speaker’s gavel.

And with many Republicans still furious over what happened to McCarthy – and all over the map about everything from who should be the next speaker to House rules and looming spending and Ukraine fights – many in the conference doubt the speaker’s race can get resolved next week.

“A lot can happen between now and then because it’s politics, but the history isn’t good,” said Rep. Mark Amodei, a Nevada Republican. “If we have a speaker by the end of next week, that would be warp speed.”

Despite the whiplash, Republicans did breathe a sigh of relief after Trump opted not to come to the Capitol next week after briefly flirting with the idea, which would have injected even more chaos into the situation. Still, Trump is getting off the sidelines of the speaker’s fight and has been making calls on Jordan’s behalf after endorsing the Ohio Republican, multiple sources told CNN.

Trump is also paying close attention to another leadership race, according to sources familiar with the former president’s thinking: House GOP Whip Tom Emmer, who is running to succeed Scalise as majority leader if he moves up the ladder. Emmer has drawn the ire of Trump world, in part because he counseled candidates to avoid talking about Trump on the campaign trail last year. It’s unclear if Trump will come out against Emmer, who is the only declared candidate so far, but sources said Trump has concerns about his candidacy.

For Democrats, the House GOP drama puts them in a wait-and-see mode. Democrats have limited options after they played their hand Tuesday by declining to come to McCarthy’s rescue, and now await whoever emerges as the next speaker – and their negotiating partner with the threat of a shutdown still looming a little more than a month away.

While there’s been suggestions of a bipartisan solution to fix the House, there’s no effort afoot that would suggest it’s a possibility – moderate Republicans are still furious with Democrats for failing to save McCarthy.

In the wake of McCarthy’s sudden ouster, many Republicans are preparing themselves for a protracted speaker’s race in which the actual floor proceedings may not even begin until a candidate emerges who can get 217 votes on the floor.

Right now, there is no indication Scalise or Jordan has locked that down. The scenario comes as some Republicans have encouraged interim Speaker Patrick McHenry to shield the conference from further displays of public dysfunction, preferring to settle their internal divisions behind closed doors before taking the battle to the floor, like January’s embarrassing 15-vote marathon before McCarthy won the speaker’s gavel.

“We think we should settle it behind closed doors. We don’t need a 15-round session. In the past, we’d all coalesce around the clear winner, but we have a small group of whack jobs who do their own thing,” one GOP member said.

“There are a lot of us who think we better know when we walk on the floor – we have 217,” another member said. “There is nothing about this that is good, but going through a very public display of failure is not something a lot of us think is best for the conference or best for the country.”

Before the floor vote, Republicans will huddle behind closed doors Wednesday to pick their choice for speaker. The candidate only needs a simple majority of the 221-member conference, and with it being a competitive two-way race at this point, that means whoever prevails is unlikely to initially have the 217 votes that will be needed on the House floor.

One option being considered is having members vote multiple times by secret ballot until someone actually gets the votes to win on the floor. Typically, it is up to the candidate who gets the majority of votes as speaker-designate to determine when the actual floor vote happens. Technically, though, McHenry will call for the floor vote, though he is expected to defer to the speaker-designee, a leadership source said.

Both Scalise and Jordan have spent the past several days making their pitches to different constituencies in the GOP conference. In particular, the battle to win over moderates could be decisive, as there’s a faction of moderate-leaning Republicans in the House who are uneasy over the politics of both candidates and still angry at the far-right rebels who took out McCarthy.

Jordan’s candidacy got an outside push when Trump endorsed the Ohio Republican for speaker.

The endorsement isn’t a huge surprise, given that Jordan was one of Trump’s closest allies and most prominent attack dogs in Congress while he was president. Still, Trump’s involvement underscored how much the speaker’s race is about more than just the internal jockeying that typically accompanies closed-ballot party races.

Jordan has pitched himself as the candidate who can bring together the warring GOP factions. “Someone has to (run) who can bring the team together and can go communicate to the country – and that’s why I’m running,” Jordan told CNN’s Manu Raju Friday.

Scalise has served as McCarthy’s No. 2 as the House majority leader and is one of the conference’s top fundraisers. Sources said he’s argued to members that he has the experience, staff operation and institutional knowledge to govern the GOP conference – along with more conservative bona fides than McCarthy.

He outlined his case for the speakership on social media Friday, arguing he can build a unifying coalition and naming some top priorities that are big issues on the right: the so-called weaponization of the government, spending cuts and border security.

The speaker’s race is also about more than just picking the right candidate for the job. There’s still a deep divide in the GOP conference over how to handle the threat of a government shutdown that returns next month, the push for more aid to Ukraine and the House rules that were used to oust McCarthy.

McCarthy’s allies are demanding rules changes that would make it harder for Rep. Matt Gaetz – the Florida Republican who filed the “motion to vacate” that led to McCarthy’s removal – or other hardline conservatives to make the same move against a future speaker.

“I think before we have a single discussion about the speaker, we’ve got to discuss the functionality of the position,” Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana said this week, adding that he wants to discuss the rule changes before holding speaker elections.

There’s also a faction of Republicans – particularly those vulnerable in districts President Joe Biden won – concerned about what’s going to happen in mid-November, when the stopgap spending bill that McCarthy helped pass with Democratic votes expires. Conservative hardliners are demanding deep spending cuts that are non-starters with Senate Democrats and the White House, and there’s little consensus in the House GOP over what to do about additional Ukraine aid.

Biden jabbed at House Republicans on Friday while saying he was willing to work with whomever was ultimately elected by the House to be speaker.

“It’s time to stop fooling around. House Republicans, it’s time for you to do your job,” Biden said at a White House event touting the economy’s better-than-expected job numbers Friday. “So let’s get to work for the American people, they’re waiting and they’re watching.”

Democrats have little role to play as Republicans decide who should be the next speaker – their members will vote for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. And once Republicans do settle on a party leader, Biden and congressional Democrats will have little time to figure out how to keep the government from shutting down and how to approve more Ukraine aid they say is a top priority in the fall.

Both tasks are likely to be harder with McCarthy’s successor, no matter who ends up winning the speaker’s gavel.

Jeffries wrote a Washington Post op-ed on Friday defending Democrats’ decision to vote out McCarthy, saying Republicans rejected making bipartisan changes to the House rules. Jeffries called for the House to be restructured to make the chamber more bipartisan.

“The rules of the House should reflect the inescapable reality that Republicans are reliant on Democratic support to do the basic work of governing,” the Democratic leader wrote. “A small band of extremists should not be capable of obstructing that cooperation.”

In theory, a group of Republicans could join with Democrats to install a consensus speaker candidate. In practice, the Problem Solvers Caucus – a group that was created to try to come up with bipartisan solutions – is at risk of dissolution as the group’s Republicans are considering quitting en masse to protest Democrats’ failure to save McCarthy.

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