7 min read

Four questions swirling around the Capitol

Here’s what reporters are asking as the post-McCarthy era dawns.
Four questions swirling around the Capitol
House speaker candidate Jim Jordan gaggles with reporters. (Photo by Gabe Fleisher)

Good morning! It’s Thursday, October 5, 2023. The 2024 elections are 397 days away. If this newsletter was forwarded to you, subscribe here. If you want to contribute to support my work, donate here.

I spent yesterday at the Capitol, surveying the scene on the first day of the post-McCarthy era. Here are the four main questions that the press corps was lobbing at lawmakers — and the answers we managed to extract:

Who will be the next speaker?

So far, two candidates have announced bids for the speaker’s gavel: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH). A third candidate, Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-OK), has not formally thrown his hat in the ring — although other lawmakers told us he was running.

As with any speaker’s race, there are a lot of personality dynamics at play here. You might think that support from McCarthy allies would flow to Scalise, who has spent the last nine years serving as McCarthy’s deputy — but, in fact, the two men had a famously frosty relationship. Semafor reported last night that some McCarthy staffers are working the phones for Jordan, a sign that the ex-speaker’s operation might be coalescing behind the Ohioan.

Jordan spent years as a thorn in leadership’s side, but more recently became a close partner of McCarthy’s; if he is able to unite conservatives — his natural constituency — and strong McCarthy backers, he will make for a formidable challenger against Scalise, who is putatively next in line.

One idea that was met with resistance from several House Republicans on Wednesday was the sentiment that everyone in leadership should simply move up a rung: Scalise becomes speaker, Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) becomes leader, Chief Deputy Whip Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) or Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-NY) become whip.

“I think this whole narrative about every member of the existing leadership taking one step up is bullshit,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) told Politico. (Coming from a close ally of the former speaker, it was taken as another snub from McCarthy-world toward Scalise.)

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), a former member of leadership, told reporters he agrees with Graves. “I think [the string of promotions] is problematic to the American people, but I know for sure it is a viewpoint that, back home in Texas, would not be seen in a positive way,” he said.

At the same time, though, Sessions also told a group of us that it was important for the next speaker to have “demonstrated ability” as a leader: “You don’t get someone to be the manager of the team or your starting pitcher if they’ve never pitched before.” He did not elaborate on who might reside in that sweet spot of coming from outside leadership but having proven leadership experience.  

Will the government stay open?  

With a stopgap funding measure passed, we are now 43 days away from a potential government shutdown.

After McCarthy was ousted, the House left town for a week to regroup. When they get back, the main priority on the agenda will be picking a new speaker — something that could eat up several days, if it’s anything like the speaker balloting back in January.

The lower chamber is also scheduled to take off the last week of October and the first week of November. At best, if a speaker is chosen on the first day of voting, that would mean the House will be in session only 14 additional days before the shutdown deadline.

The Senate, meanwhile, is taking an extended break for Columbus Day; they are only scheduled to be in town for 24 legislative days between now and the deadline.

On Wednesday, most Republicans were focused on the need to continue passing the 12 appropriations bills. But there is far from enough time to hash out compromises on all — or really any — of the appropriations bills with the Senate, which means we are hurtling towards another continuing resolution.

If the same Republicans who refused to support a CR under McCarthy do so again under his successor, that new speaker will similarly need Democratic votes to pass one  — which could leave the House choosing once again between a shutdown or another speaker ouster.

What will happen to Ukraine aid?

The chief casualty of McCarthy’s stunted speakership could end up being aid for Ukraine, a devastating possibility for the country’s prospects of beating back the Russian invasion.

When the House voted on a $300 million aid package for Kyiv last month, Scalise voted in favor while Jordan and Hern joined the majority of House Republicans in opposition.

Jordan affirmed to a gaggle on Wednesday that he’s “against” Ukraine aid: “The most pressing issue on Americans’ minds is not Ukraine,” he added. “It’s the border situation and it’s crime on the streets, and everybody knows that.”

Hern expressed slightly more openness, but said President Biden will need to “sit down in a classified setting and tell all members what his strategy is” before any more Ukraine aid is approved. “We want to know where American taxpayer dollars are going, and what’s the endgame,” Hern said.

To me, Jordan and Hern’s comments served as a reminder that — even if they are not primarily responsible for McCarthy’s ouster — Democrats could live to regret the former speaker being pushed aside. It’s possible that McCarthy’s successor will have to promise not to hold a floor vote on Ukraine in order to be elected.

When I asked Pete Sessions, a supporter of the aid, if he believed a speaker could be elected who planned to hold a floor vote on Ukraine, he paused for several seconds. “I think those conversations need to be had,” he said.

Then again, support for Ukraine is waning on both sides of the Capitol. Attending the Senate leadership press conferences later in the day, the thing that struck me most on this topic came from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY).

McConnell has established himself as one of Ukraine’s most passionate champions in Congress — but he is still smarting from his own conference rejecting his plan to secure more aid last week. When Ukraine came up at yesterday’s press conference, McConnell sounded like a man who understood he could ill afford to prioritize what has been called his “final political mission.”

Asked if Jordan’s rhetoric on Ukraine bothered him, McConnell suggested that his focus had moved from Kyiv to more pressing domestic matters. “These other issues are not going away,” he said, referring to Ukraine. “They’ll be dealt with in due time.”

Will the motion to vacate be changed?

The answer to this last question could determine the answers to all the others.

The House might be able to elect a new speaker, after all, but what’s stopping them from being ejected by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his same band of rebels?

In response, some Republicans are calling for a rules change to increase the number of members it takes to file a motion to vacate, the procedural move that triggers a vote on removing the speaker. Currently, a motion filed by just one member can spark a floor vote.  

Even McConnell, who is normally loath to weigh in on House politics, offered his opinion — unprompted by the press. “I have no advice to give to House Republicans, except one,” he said. “I hope whoever the next speaker is gets rid of the motion to vacate. I think it makes the speaker’s job impossible.”

Those are the main questions that were being asked at the Capitol on Wednesday. What are YOUR questions? What are you wondering about the speaker election and the chaos in the House? Send your questions to gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com and I’ll try to answer some of them in the newsletter.

By the way...

This sign was still up in the Capitol on Wednesday, in case you were wondering:

(Photo by Gabe Fleisher)

More news to know.

At least 48 people were killed in a Russian air strike that hit a Ukrainian grocery store this morning.

From calling for shooting shoplifters and executing a top general, Donald Trump’s rhetoric is growing increasingly violent.

Trump raised $45.5 million last quarter, triple Ron DeSantis’ $15 million.

Steve Bannon helped fan the flames of McCarthy’s ouster.

Those little white Covid vaccination cards have been phased out by the CDC.

Commander Biden, the First Dog, is no longer at the White House after a string of biting incidents.

A Democratic free-for-all is breaking out in New Jersey after Bob Menendez’s indictment.

The day ahead.

Biden talks Ukraine: The president will receive a briefing on Ukraine at 12 p.m. ET. It will be his first national security meeting including Gen. C. Q. Brown, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in his new role.

Feinstein’s funeral: The late senator from California will be honored at a service that will include Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as eulogists.

Noting on the Hill: Neither chamber of Congress is in session today.

Before I go...

Did the emergency alert test go off on your phone yesterday? Well, it turns out not even senators were exempt.

The alert momentarily derailed the weekly Senate Republican press conference yesterday, as phones belonging to lawmakers and reporters alike started blaring — including mine.

One Republican senator even seemed to make a joke tying the alert to the chaos in the House, after Mitch McConnell asked about the alarm, “When does it stop?”

“That’s what they’re asking over there,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) said, pointing in the direction of the House chamber. “When does it stop?” Click to watch:


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— Gabe