Stephen Boyd’s weekly Capitol Hill briefing for Alabama’s business, financial, defense and government affairs executives.
What’s Next in the Ongoing Speaker Fiasco
Twenty days into its futile quest to elect a new Speaker of the House, the House Republican Conference is essentially back to square one.
Last Friday, the Conference overwhelmingly voted 112 to 86 to move on from Rep. Jim Jordan as its Speaker designee. That decision—made by secret ballot behind closed doors—followed three failed bids on the House floor in which Jordan bled support. Without a Speaker, the House can’t legislate.
House Republicans will hold another “candidate forum” tonight. The deadline for Republicans to declare their candidacy for the Speakership was yesterday at noon, and surprisingly, nine expressed an interest in the job. With Reps. McCarthy, Scalise, and Jordan—three of the highest profile Republicans in Washington—now sidelined, the new slate of candidates includes some names less familiar to many Americans. They are:
- Tom Emmer (MN) – As chief vote counter in the Republican leadership, Emmer has a larger staff at his disposal, and that can make a big difference in a time-constrained internal election. But, as we’ve noted before, the leadership tag cuts both ways. If Emmer were the clear favorite, the other eight wouldn’t be in the race.
- Jack Bergman (MI) – Bergman is a retired three-star U.S. Marine Corps General that would likely serve as Speaker on an interim basis. Most folks would agree that the House could use some USMC discipline right now.
- Byron Donalds (FL) – Donalds is a well-liked, second term member from southwest Florida that has roots in the Freedom Caucus. Donalds has indicated more willingness to cut defense budgets than the others. In his mid-40’s, he is seen by some as too junior for the post—but perhaps a relatively clean slate is a hidden advantage?
- Kevin Hern (OK) – Hern leads the Republican Study Committee, the largest block of conservatives. Expect Hern to go deep in the voting rounds based on that built-in foundation of support.
- Mike Johnson (LA) – Johnson is the Vice Chair of the Republican Conference and is active on the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. He penned a detailed letter to his colleagues outlining his seven priorities if given the job.
- Dan Meuser (PA) – Meuser is a third-term member on the House Financial Services committee.
- Austin Scott (GA) – Scott put his name in at the last minute for a previous round of voting to give anti-Jordan voters a place to land. With minimal campaigning, he walked away with 81 votes. He is strong voice on national security and agricultural matters, and probably the most natural representative of southern regional issues in the bunch.
- Pete Sessions (TX) – Sessions ran the campaign wing of the party during the historic Tea Party wave of 2010. Since then, he lost his seat in Congress and won another one back.
- Gary Palmer (AL) – Palmer, who represents a stretch of central Alabama ranging from Oneonta, “Over the Mountain” Birmingham, Montevallo, and Maplesville, heads the wonky Republican Policy Committee and is known as a policy guru. In a statement announcing his candidacy, Palmer said, “The Republican majority must be willing to make the reforms necessary to ensure fiscal responsibility and restore people’s faith in their government – and in us as their elected representatives. We cannot do this until we are united as Republicans and get back to serving the people who sent us to Washington to defend and advance their interests and not our own.”
Following tonight’s forum and what will surely be a frantic late night of campaigning by the candidates and their staff, the conference will meet tomorrow to begin multiple rounds of closed door, secret ballot voting. The lowest vote-getter in each round is kicked off the island until there is, finally, a winner.
Then what? The Republican nominee needs 217 votes on the floor. In years past, the conference would rally around the party’s designee in a one-on-one matchup with the Democrats, who will again put forth Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.
But building nearly unanimous support in the Republican conference today would seem a tall order. At this point, divisions extend far beyond the normal conservative vs. moderate lines and after nearly three weeks of twists and turns—and some perceived backstabbing—relationships within the conference are frayed to a degree unprecedented in recent memory.
Working in the House is a team sport. Whether it’s voting for a leadership position or on legislation, power in the House is based on numbers and those numbers are based on unity.
At the end of the day, Representatives have a binary choice, so when a small group of Republicans buck their leadership on legislation, for example, they are in effect voting with the Democrats. That happens a lot, and it’s usually masked by a majority large enough to absorb lost votes. But in the 118th Congress, the margin for error is so small—just four votes—that nearly any deviation grinds action to halt and, essentially, empowers the minority party.
Knowing this, Rep. Mike Flood from Nebraska has proposed a unity pledge that would encourage all Republicans to vote for the next GOP-designated nominee, no matter who it is.
“The Unity Pledge is a new effort to help our conference put our differences aside and come together,” he wrote. “I’m urging all my colleagues to join this pledge so we can move forward with electing a Speaker and get on with the people’s business.”
Maybe that will work, because if it doesn’t, Republicans may soon be accepting help from Democrats to get them out of this jam. One scenario: should Republicans face another embarrassing round of failing to elect their own nominee, some might renew a push to empower Patrick McHenry (NC)—currently the stand-in Speaker with limited authority—to assume the full Speakership. While McHenry would lack the Republican votes necessary to win outright, Jefferies could offer up just enough Democrat votes to put McHenry over the line. Democrats see McHenry as the lesser of many political evils.
Polling & Legislation
The American people are taking notice of the dysfunction. A USA TODAY poll over the weekend found that two-thirds of Americans want the House to elect a Speaker “As soon as possible.” And Grover Norquist, the President of Americans for Tax Reform, posted polling data showing that 62% of GOP voters say that the Republicans who ousted McCarthy are now hurting the party.
Critical legislation awaits, and Members of all stripes want to get back to work: government funding, the Farm Bill, Sec. 702 foreign surveillance reauthorization, tax legislation, and the National Defense authorization Act. Now, add a $105 billion additional request from the Biden Administration that includes money for Israel, America’s top ally in the Middle East that is teetering on the verge of a major regional conflict.
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.