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Stephen Boyd: THE MONDAY BRIEF | October 10, 2023

Stephen Boyd’s weekly Capitol Hill briefing for Alabama’s business, financial, defense and government affairs executives.

Here’s a special Tuesday Edition following the federal holiday yesterday. 


The People and Process to Watch During an Unprecedented Leadership Change in the House

Last Tuesday, just four percent of one party in one chamber of one branch of government brought the lawmaking process to a grinding halt. The move by eight right-wing hardliners—a rebellion that left many House Republicans feeling “ashamed and embarrassed”—means that the majority party must now scramble to elect a new speaker.  

Most House Republicans recognize that the chaotic events of last week hinder, not help, their chances at retaining the House majority. However, in the process of moving forward with a new leader they risk another public display of dysfunction.  

That’s because the same voting math that sank McCarthy also makes it hard for anyone else to lock down the requisite support. It’ll be an interesting and consequential week with domestic politics now playing out against the backdrop of a sudden and violent war involving one of America’s closest allies. 

Here’s a brief run-down of the people and the process in play:

The People…

For now, only two members are officially in the running: Reps. Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan. 

Steve Scalise, the current House Majority Leader, is a well-regarded conservative from Louisiana. His leadership ties cut both ways: Scalise carries an “establishment” tag that is toxic in some corners, but he has put in the work over many years to build relationships across the conference. A small example: in 2010, Scalise personally visited Montgomery to show support for an unlikely challenger to an incumbent Democrat—an important potential pickup on the road to a new Republican majority. Martha Roby won that debate (and the election), and Scalise celebrated with family and close friends after. Multiply that sort of personal touch over the course of a decade and you start to see why Scalise has such strong backing.   

Jim Jordan, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, is the pugnacious chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary. Jordan is a talented Member who does not shy away from a fight, and his strong MAGA views—Trump endorsed him for Speaker—and his intense prosecution of the Biden administration are in step with a large swath of the Republican party. Some Republicans worry that those MAGA-leanings will prevent Jordan from recruiting candidates in swing districts or from raising big money nationally for others—two important parts of the job. 

Don’t fall for the notion that one candidate is “more conservative” than the other. The “Heritage Action for American” scorecard—viewed incorrectly by some as the gold standard of conservatism—currently scores Scalise and Jordan exactly the same: 82%.  

Some moderates are not thrilled with either choice, and the 18 Republicans currently holding seats in districts that Biden won will surely have a voice. Other candidates could emerge, including:

  • Rep. Kevin Hern (OK), the leader of the Republican Study Committee—the largest group of conservatives—is reportedly gauging support; 
  • Speaker McCarthy hinted that he would run again, if asked; and
  • Patrick McHenry (NC), the well-regarded Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee currently serving as acting Speaker, could very well find himself last man standing if the process drags on. 


The Process…

Republicans will reconvene this evening for a private candidate forum, wisely abandoning an ill-advised plan to have Bret Baier host a public debate on Fox News. This is an internal mess and it needs to be cleaned up internally. 

Democrats and Republicans will then meet separately to nominate their preferred choice for Speaker. Democrats will quickly nominate Hakeem Jefferies, their new leader in the post-Pelosi era. Though a Republican nominee could win his or her party’s nomination with 111 supporters, some Republicans want to require a candidate to have the requisite votes to win on the floor—normally 218 votes, but 217 for now due to two House vacancies—before moving forward to the official proceedings. That could be tough. 

I’ve sat in a closed-door congressional leadership election. Picture a high school Student Government Association contest with students dropping their paper ballots in a shoe box at the front of the auditorium, and you’re not too far off. Notably, unlike on the House floor, leadership votes in conference are traditionally conducted by secret ballot. Counting votes in a leadership election is notoriously difficult: when seeking support, you can really only trust the people who tell you “No.”

Once the respective nominees are selected, the process moves to the full House where Republicans are eager to avoid a repeat of the 15-round spectacle from January.   

But with both Jordan and Scalise having received endorsements from their colleagues numbering in the double digits, it’s clear that neither currently has the requisite support. Absent the withdrawal of one of the candidates, the process to win over votes will be difficult and likely require multiple rounds of closed-door voting. It’s Washington, so at some point political horse trading enters the conversation.

Another wrinkle. While unprecedented, McCarthy’s fate was the result of an anti-leadership movement in Republican politics that has been festering for a decade. See also: John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Those forces are not going anywhere and it’s reasonable for any potential nominee for the speakership to demand a change to the rule that undermined McCarthy. Otherwise, the job is a dead end. 

It’s possible that the whole process could move quickly, but that seems unlikely. On APT’s Capitol Journal this weekend, Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt offered a reasoned assessment to host Todd Stacy: “Being elected as Speaker of the House is not just being elected among the Republicans, it’s elected as a whole. So there has to be 218 votes that are cast for the Speaker himself, or herself whoever it may be. And right now, I’m not sure if anyone could get 218. I think this is going to be a very arduous process going forward over the next few days. You know, I could see this stretching out for even a week or two.” 

Meanwhile the clock is ticking on important legislative deadlines: government funding, Ukraine aide, the Farm Bill, Sec. 702 foreign surveillance reauthorization, and a tax bill critically important to research and development companies. Add to that list support for Israel, if it becomes necessary. Each is important and unlikely to move forward without strong leadership to guide negotiations.

In the words of Arkansas Republican Steve Womack, “This is a hard conference to lead. There’s a lot of free agents in there, a lot of people that just aren’t going to forfeit their individual voting card. … But I think right now the need for the conference is to function more like a team.”


Stephen E. Boyd is a Partner at Horizons Global Solutions. Previously, he served as a Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Chief of Staff for Alabama members in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and as a Communications Director of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He resides in the Washington, D.C. area. Opinions expressed herein are his own. This news report is not intended to influence or persuade. Contact Stephen at [email protected] or via X at @SEBOYD79 or via LinkedIn


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