7 min read

The House GOP is in shambles

McCarthy. Scalise. Who’s next? The House GOP is completely rudderless in a time of crisis.
The House GOP is in shambles
Next up: Jim Jordan. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Good morning! It’s Friday, October 13, 2023. The 2024 elections are 389 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

Another day, another House GOP leader pushed aside.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) ended his bid for the speaker’s gavel on Thursday — just eight days after declaring his candidacy in the rubble of the McCarthy speakership, and just one day after winning the House Republican nomination for the post.

Despite being chosen as the GOP nominee on Wednesday, it quickly became clear throughout Thursday that Scalise lacked the 217 votes needed to be elected speaker on the floor. As I wrote yesterday morning, too many members opposed him for too many different reasons. As the day went on, Scalise only lost supporters instead of gaining them.

House Republicans will now return to the drawing board, meeting at 10 a.m. this morning to pick a new speaker nominee, their third in a single Congress. Scalise’s withdrawal was the latest twist in a process that is becoming more farcical by the hour, as the majority party in the House gropes blindly for a leader while two close U.S. allies are at war and a government shutdown looms.

Who will be next to step up to the plate? House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) is sure to launch a bid, after coming up short against Scalise in Wednesday’s internal conference vote. But if Scalise struggled to turn his 113 votes from that session into 217, it is unclear how Jordan will manage to climb from his 99 votes on Wednesday to the 217 he’d need on the floor.

Already, per Punchbowl News, five House Republicans — mostly moderates — have said they’d oppose the arch-conservative Jordan on the floor, enough to deny him the speakership.

After Jordan, other potential candidates include House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN), House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-OK). Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who has been serving as Speaker Pro Tempore since McCarthy’s ouster, is also seen as a potential consensus pick.

All sorts of ideas are floating around the GOP conference. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) wants to reinstate McCarthy. Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX) is still pushing to give Trump the gavel. Rep. Andy Ogles (R-TN) is calling for the conference to lock itself in a room and not leave until a speaker is elected.

“We should just have a lottery,” Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA) suggested. “If you lose, you have to be speaker.”

“Someone said you could put Jesus Christ up for speaker and he wouldn’t get 217,” Rep. Mark Alford (R-MO) fumed.

Then there’s the idea of a bipartisan coalition, which I’ve received a lot of questions about. As a sampling:

Why don’t centrists from both the Republican and Democratic parties work together to elect a moderate Republican as Speaker of the House? — Bradon W.
With another CR deadline coming up what are the chances that the moderates of both parties in the House can come together as a consortium to move the House forward? — Glenn K.

The chances remain low — but higher than they’ve ever been. As I detailed last month, this sort of arrangement would not be completely unprecedented: Speaker Nathaniel Banks was elected by a cross-party anti-slavery coalition in 1855, a short-lived American experiment with coalition government.

But in our modern era, when the House speakership has become synonymous with partisan leadership, it would be a huge departure.

Unsurprisingly (considering it is their only chance at helping run the House in the next year), House Democrats love the idea of a coalition speaker. “We simply need Republican partners willing to break with MAGA extremism, reform the highly partisan House rules that were adopted at the beginning of this Congress, and join us in finding common ground for the people,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) wrote in a Washington Post op-ed pushing the proposal.

In the op-ed, Jeffries began to lay out the Democrats’ terms for such an agreement: a restructuring of the House rules to “facilitate up-or-down votes on bills that have strong bipartisan support.” He did not name any moderate Republicans his caucus would be willing to back for speaker, although House Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole (R-OK) — a long-serving institutionalist — is someone who frequently comes up.

So far, Jeffries doesn’t have any Republican takers, although some GOP lawmakers have publicly mulled the idea. “I think in the end, a bipartisan way may be the only answer because we have 8-10 people that do not want to be part of the governing majority,” moderate Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) told CBS News on Thursday. Two House committee chairmen also made similar comments.

So far, it seems to me that their musing is more about sending a message to their Republican colleagues than extending an olive branch to Democrats. In an attempt to steer the GOP conference toward someone more moderate than Jordan, these Republicans are essentially threatening to break away and join a cross-party coalition if an acceptable candidate doesn’t emerge ASAP.

For now, that’s all I think those comments mean. But, with every day this stalemate continues, the chances of a bipartisan coalition edge upward. Eventually, some number of Republicans — it would only take five if all Democrats are on board — will grow frustrated and want to return to governing, especially so they can deliver aid to Israel and Ukraine. But it would take exhausting all the possible GOP options before we might get there. Only then — after Jordan, Emmer, Hern, McHenry, and McCarthy are all rejected — would any of this become a live possibility. The odds are still very remote, but it’s not entirely out of the question if more time goes by and no Republican is able to get to 217.

Another related possibility to keep an eye on: Democrats and Republicans could also work together to temporarily empower Speaker Pro Tempore McHenry, allowing him to move government funding bills to the floor if necessary.

Currently, as I explored yesterday, the extent of McHenry’s authority is hazy. But all it would take is a House vote to elect McHenry to a more formal iteration of his current position. If we get closer to the November 17 funding deadline and still lack a speaker, and the Freedom Caucus refuses to play ball, you could see Republicans turning to Democrats to help broaden McHenry’s powers in the name of keeping the government open.

If Democrats demand a concession to cooperate, it’s easy to imagine aid for Ukraine — or even a combined Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan-border security package, as the White House is now talking about — emerging as the chit they get in return.

Did anything get done this week?

A bipartisan House vigil for Israel. (Craig Caplan / Twitter)

It was not a banner week for government function in Washington, which I like to highlight in my Friday newsletter. The Senate was on recess all week; the House, well, you know what was going on there.

But there were still some glimmers of bipartisanship, mainly in response to the war in Israel.

As Puck’s Abby Livingston pointed out, three sets of House committee leaders took some form of bipartisan action on Israel this week, an impressive development considering how partisan House committees have become:

  • The Republican chair and Democratic ranking member of House Intelligence appeared for a joint interview on CNN — something you almost never see these days — to discuss their work together on Israel.
  • The Republican chair and Democratic ranking member of House Armed Services issued a joint statement condemning the “barbarism of Hamas terrorists who attacked Israel.”
  • The Republican chair and Democratic ranking member of House Foreign Affairs introduced a bipartisan resolution declaring U.S. support for Israel. The resolution quickly received more than 400 co-sponsors, near-unanimous support in the 435-member House. It will likely be one of the first pieces of legislation that the House takes up when it, you know, returns to doing that.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Democratic chair and Republican ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plan to introduce a similar resolution next week.

Other government actions of note this week:

  • The Federal Trade Commission proposed a new regulation that would require companies to “include all mandatory fees when telling consumers a price,” prohibiting them from adding hidden extra charges known as “junk fees.”
  • The Defense Department announced a new $200 million aid package for Ukraine.
  • The State Department declared that the recent military takeover of Niger’s government was a coup, which has the effect of suspending most U.S. assistance to the country.

More news to know.

Rep. Cory Mills with Americans he evacuated from Israel. (Mills’ office)

Israel calls on 1.1 million Gazans to evacuate south in order UN warns is “impossible” / CNN

Rep. Cory Mills returning from Israel after shuttling 77 stranded Americans out of the country / New York Post

U.S. reaches “quiet understanding” with Qatar not to release $6 billion in Iranian oil revenues / CBS News

Sen. Bob Menendez faces new charges accusing him of working for foreign government / NBC News

Law enforcement steps up security in DC area after former Hamas leader calls for global “Day of Rage” / Fox 5 DC

Schumer to visit Israel this weekend / Jewish Insider

Kaiser Permanente, union reach tentative agreement after biggest healthcare strike / Reuters

Montana judge seems skeptical of state’s TikTok ban / Axios

An Oklahoma judge could be removed from office for sending more than 500 texts during a murder trial / AP

The day ahead.

President Biden speaking about “Bidenomics.” (Adam Schultz / White House)

White House: President Biden will deliver remarks in Philadelphia about his “Bidenomics” agenda at 3:15 p.m. ET.

Congress: The House may hold votes relating to the speakership. The Senate is on recess.

Supreme Court: The justices will meet for their weekly conference.

Thanks for reading.

I get up each morning to write Wake Up To Politics because I’m committed to offering an independent and reliable news source that helps you navigate our political system and understand what’s going on in government.

The newsletter is completely free and ad-free — but if you appreciate the work that goes into it, here’s how you can help:

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.‌‌‌‌

Thanks so much for waking up to politics! Have a great day.‌‌‌‌

— Gabe