House Republicans met Monday evening to kick off what promises to be the bitter and prolonged process of finding a new speaker. If anything, the initial meeting left the conference more confused and divided. Ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy didn’t make any of that easier with his opportunistic reemergence as a quasi-leader in response to the crisis in Israel.
He did garner a few “McCarthy or bust” adherents, including some first-term moderates who don’t relish having to choose between two ultra-conservatives (Reps. Jim Jordan and Steve Scalise, who are running for the job) who could make the moderates take uncomfortable votes. Three of them—Reps. John Duarte of California, Carlos Giménez, and John Rutherford—vowed in the meeting that they would vote for only McCarthy. Reps. Mike Lawler and Nick LaLota of New York and Don Bacon of Nebraska are in the “bring McCarthy back” camp, but without the ultimatums.
That’s clearly not going to work. As angry as many in the conference are at the eight Republican lawmakers who voted to boot McCarthy, they are happily moving on. There’s also no indication that there is anything that would compel five of those eight to change their minds on McCarthy. Others in the pro-McCarthy camp seem to be accepting that reality and are working on a way to give McCarthy’s designated successor, Rep. Patrick McHenry, more power to make the House function.
The Washington Post reports that some Republicans have started “back-channel talks” with Democrats to explore that possibility. Republican Rep. David Joyce of Ohio made that case on Monday in an interview with Punchbowl News, saying, “I think with what’s taking place in the world, it’s important that we take time to empower the present speaker who’s there under rules that were never really officially developed. And if there is a problem the next two days, then give him the power to at least continue to move this country forward.”
Democrats might not be too receptive to those overtures after McHenry’s petulant and punitive performance against Democratic Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer last week, during which McHenry took away their offices.
Complicating matters further, a group led by moderate Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and firebrand Freedom Caucus Rep. Chip Roy of Texas is trying to get the GOP conference to accept a rules change that would make any candidate have to secure 217 Republican votes before they go to the floor for a public vote. The Post reports that “dozens” of members are behind that effort. That means this fight could drag on for weeks.
That leaves Jordan and Scalise as the main candidates for speaker. Neither spoke in Monday’s meeting, but they will make their pitches in a forum on Tuesday. Both are meeting with the large Florida delegation Tuesday, as well as making the rounds among the various caucuses.
The first round of voting—out of lord knows how many—within the GOP conference starts Wednesday. If this drags on long enough, some of those “moderates” might see personal political salvation in working with Democrats instead of blaming them. After all, the world is watching, and government funding will run out Nov. 17 unless they do something about it.
Sign if you agree: No more MAGA circus. Hakeem Jeffries for speaker!
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