It’s been 16 days since Republicans ousted former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The current Republican nominee, Rep. Jim Jordan, will not seek a third vote on Thursday, though he intends to remain “speaker designee,” which would give him the power to call a vote for speaker. He is also backing an effort to keep acting Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry in place, with additional powers, until January.
That idea is not sitting well with the guy who instigated this crisis: Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.
Gaetz and other maniacs, like Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, do not want to empower McHenry to act as speaker. And this is where it gets dicey. Some Republicans are advocating a typically authoritarian response: seize power without the nicety of having an election. In other words, just say McHenry has all the power he needs to do whatever he has to. This isn’t coming from the typical MAGA coup-throwers, either. A top aide to both former Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan is advocating for it in an op-ed in The New York Times.
Sure, Brendan Buck writes, the “cleanest solution is a vote of the body to give Mr. McHenry the full legislative powers of the speaker, perhaps for only a fixed period.” In exchange for agreeing to do this, Buck says, Democrats shouldn’t expect anything and “will instead have to have faith that Mr. McHenry will act fairly and urgently to bring up legislation in support of Israel and Ukraine, as well as to fund our own government.”
But if Republicans won’t agree to an election for McHenry—and there is definitely GOP opposition to the idea—Buck says that McHenry “may simply need to act on his own.” He continues, “In the absence of clear rules, the House operates on precedent. We are in an unprecedented situation. And the House’s rules, functionally, are whatever a simple majority say they are.”
This could be what the triad of McCarthy, McHenry, and Jordan land upon, or indeed what they’re plotting. The three have been meeting privately, Punchbowl News reports. “They’re in close contact and, to the extent Jordan has a strategy, McCarthy and McHenry are somewhat read into it.” Or perhaps shaping it.
What we know about all three of those guys is that they will do whatever it takes to shut Democrats out of the process. The upside is that McCarthy and Jordan are terrible at strategizing and organizing. Otherwise, neither would be where they are right now.
Democrats have been united and prepared for just about anything in this fight. Both parties are having morning conferences on Thursday to plot the way forward, and the McHenry option will certainly feature in both. Democrats seem open to it as long as they’re included in the process.
“All options on the table,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries told reporters Wednesday morning. “We have two objectives: Stop Jim Jordan, who is a clear and present danger to our democracy, and reopen the government in a bipartisan way with reasonable people in charge.” Given some of McHenry’s first actions as temporary speaker—kicking former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Majority Leader Steny Hoyer out of their private office space—he might be less than reasonable. But electing him temporarily, with explicit constraints on his authority, should work for Democrats.
That’s if the evolving Republican plan is to have that election and not just have a McCarthy/McHenry/Jordan coup, which remains a distinct possibility. Democrats have to stay on their toes for whatever this trio might have up their sleeves. And Democrats might have to find unlikely allies in the Freedom Caucus, again. They helped get rid of McCarthy that way, after all.
Sign the petition: No government shutdown, again.
Rudeness shadows the new House speaker pro tempore, known more for inexperience
Rep. McHenry relishes his (limited) power as speaker pro tempore
The House is stuck, with no new speaker in sight. What happens next?
Jordan is set to lose a third vote even more badly. Will he look for an out?