If the House can elect a speaker in the next week or so, there should be adequate time to negotiate a government funding bill and have it voted on by 17 November, when current funding is due to expire. (ddp)

No Speaker.

The House this week voted to remove Speaker Kevin McCarthy from his post in a 216-210 vote. This was the first time in its history that the House voted to remove a sitting speaker. This stunning development has brought official House action to a halt. Since Republicans have no backup plan to succeed McCarthy, the process to replace him could be as ugly as the process that removed him. Unlike his removal that happened quickly, finding his replacement may take some time. Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who was designated as “Speaker Pro Tempore,” announced that elections for a new speaker would begin next Wednesday, 11 October, though this date could change.

The Next Speaker.

Who would want the position under the current circumstances? House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) are declared candidates. Others—including Representatives Kevin Hern (R-OK), Byron Donalds (R-FL) and Tom Cole (R-OK)—are mulling bids. Jordan, with former President Trump’s endorsement, and Scalise as the number two House Republican are the most formidable among the expected Republican candidates. Before Wednesday’s vote, House Republicans will meet on Tuesday to hear final pitches from the candidates. Unless Scalise and Jordan come to some sort of agreement beforehand (whereby one steps aside or Jordan agrees to a different leadership post), it is unlikely that any candidate would win outright on the first day of voting. Given House Republicans’ narrow majority and the fractures among them, it is possible this vote will be contested and/or delayed for several days if not longer.

Speaker Trump?

One House Republican lawmaker—Texas Congressman Troy Nehls—indicated an intent to nominate former President Donald Trump for speaker and another, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, said she will only vote for Trump to be speaker. While it is possible to elect a person outside of the House to serve as speaker, it is nearly certain that Trump could not win even if he wanted the job. However, if at least four House Republicans lawmakers join Greene and take an “only Trump” pledge, House Republicans would be in a pickle since they effectively would have no ability to approve anyone else for the job (unless a few Democrats miss the vote). That would truly paralyze the House. Trump has flirted with the idea to make him speaker, but last night endorsed Jordan for the race. This seemingly ends the “Trump for speaker” effort by a few lawmakers, but who knows with the mercurial Trump? His endorsement of Jordan will complicate the speaker’s race and could further divide House Republicans, many of whom do not want the former President to meddle in this race. If Trump decides to become the bull in the china shop and aggressively promotes Jordan at Scalise’s expense, it could make both candidates unelectable and open the door for another candidate.

House Democrats.

We have received some questions about why at least a few House Democrats didn’t support McCarthy and therefore prevent his removal. House Democrats want their own leader—House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)—as speaker. This is how they will continue to vote in the upcoming speaker votes, though they know they won’t be successful as the minority party. Moreover, House Democrats didn’t have much of a connection with McCarthy. House Republican leaders (like McCarthy) work for other House Republicans, while House Democratic leaders work for their Democratic members. They don’t spend a lot of time working with the other side. A vote for a leader of another party has happened but is unusual and probably would hurt the political fortunes of that voter. Whether members should vote for someone from another party to promote bipartisanship is a legitimate question to ask, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon in the House, including in the upcoming election for speaker.

Impact on Government Shutdown.

If the House can elect a speaker in the next week or so, there should be adequate time to negotiate a bill and have it voted on by 17 November, when current funding is due to expire. The bigger question (and concern) is what conditions the new speaker may be subject to in his or her negotiation of such a bill. Many of the concerns raised against former Speaker McCarthy before his removal related to the current process of funding the government. In particular, there was frustration with the failure to proceed through the “regular order” of passing a budget first and then separate funding bills for government agencies instead of passing one large funding bill without a budget. Conditions or limitations on the ability of a new speaker to negotiate a spending package would certainly make it very difficult for the House to meet the 17 November deadline and avert a government shutdown. We’ll know more next week, but there is a very good chance some members will look to place such conditions and limitations on a new speaker.

What We Don’t Know.

As noted, voting a sitting speaker from office had never happened before. The rules surrounding what activities are allowed in the House without a speaker are dated and often vague. Congressman Patrick McHenry was designated as “Speaker Pro Tempore” for the time being, but the limits of his authority are not entirely clear and are the subject of debate. While his primary duty, to help run the election for the next Speaker of the House, is clear, whether he has meaningful authority outside of that is not. The House employs a parliamentarian who is tasked with interpreting and clarifying the rules, and that person will be busy over the next few days. We have read the House rules and have somewhat different views about their application to current circumstances. Some Republican members are considering whether it would be possible to keep McHenry as Speaker Pro Tempore indefinitely so that he could negotiate a government funding bill without the pressure and demands of a speaker election. We doubt this is a viable option under the rules, but the fact that it is under discussion underscores how poor the options that Republicans have are at this time.

Read the full report Washington Weekly: Chaos in the House 6 October 2023.