House Republicans still absorbing the shock of Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) unprecedented ouster as Speaker are being thrust into a new Speaker’s election that’s forcing them to grapple with how to move forward.
There is no consensus on who should succeed McCarthy, nor is it clear a pick will emerge by next Wednesday, the date set for an internal election.
“There are scenarios where this could be going on for weeks,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said Wednesday.
The anger and raw feelings left over from the demise of McCarthy’s Speakership won’t make it any easier.
“I sure hope we don’t come to do any sort of, you know, physical violence or anything of the sort,” Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said shortly after McCarthy lost his vote, necessitating a new election. Womack spoke before McCarthy said he would not run for the post.
“I’ve seen people get out of their chair and point fingers and you know, drop F-bombs and — look, man, when emotions are high like this, people react.”
On one side, hard-line conservatives — including but not limited to the eight members who voted to oust McCarthy — want a leader who will take an aggressive stance on issues like spending and the border.
Opposite them stand members who are infuriated by McCarthy’s ouster by a handful of their colleagues and who want to make it harder to oust any future Speakers.
For the narrow GOP majority that already endured a 15-ballot Speaker election and a wealth of intraparty squabbling in just the last nine months, the question is not only who can unite Republicans, but who would even want the job.
Two candidates have announced official bids so far: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), who rose up through leadership after being chair of the traditionally conservative Republican Study Committee; and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a founding member of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus who became a McCarthy ally and supporter.
A third contender is Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who does not have the national profile or longevity of the other two but brings the perspective of a successful businessman. Hern has not yet officially announced a bid, but GOP lawmakers say he is talking to them about one.
Hern, Scalise and Jordan spoke at a meeting of the powerful Texas House GOP delegation Wednesday.
Republicans are also privately and publicly throwing out other dark horse names.
Scalise, by virtue of his high rank in the House GOP, is the most obvious contender for Speaker. Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas) made an early Scalise endorsement, and he also has the support of House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who is hoping to move up to majority leader should Scalise get the gavel.
But he is far from a shoo-in.
Some members say that the conference needs to keep an open mind as it figures out its priorities first.
“I think this whole narrative about every member of existing leadership taking one step up is bullshit,” Graves said. “That’s not what we need to be talking about right now.”
And Jordan, Scalise’s chief opponent, is a powerhouse on the national stage. He spent years as a prominent defender of former President Trump, he chairs the high-profile Judiciary Committee and the panel probing the “weaponization” of the federal government, and he is a key figure in the Biden impeachment inquiry.
He’s gotten public support from Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
“Every district in this country has a base. Jim Jordan is pretty popular with that base. Pretty effective communicator,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), who has not endorsed a candidate.
Scalise was also diagnosed with a “very treatable” blood cancer in August — a fact that has the potential to complicate his bid as members consider the rigors of the job. But some say that health should not be an excuse to withhold support for him.
“If Steve Scalise says he’s healthy enough to do the job that’s good enough for me, and it should be good enough for every one of us,” Armstrong said.
One major question is what the eight hard-line Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy — many of whom were also holdouts in the January Speaker’s race — are looking for.
“What I’m looking for is someone who will basically get back to the duty of actually making sure we get the most basic fundamental things we’re supposed to get done, which is the appropriations bills done on time,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), one of the McCarthy opponents, said in a video Wednesday. “I want the person who’s the most conservative who can get 218 votes.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who led the move to oust McCarthy, has expressed openness to any of the names being floated.
Jordan was one alternative to McCarthy that hard-liners repeatedly nominated and voted for during the 15-ballot Speaker election in January.
But more moderate members are also looking for different assurances.
“What I expect is someone who through his or her leadership skills will work to minimize the difficulty for members like me, maximize the successes for the people I represent, and work to build a consensus among people who clearly are going to have a hard time working together,” said Rep. Marc Molinaro (N.Y.), a swing-district Republican. “That is a very tall order.”
Any Speaker candidate will also contend with members seeking changes to the “motion to vacate” rule that paved the way for McCarthy’s ouster — or some kind of assurance that it will not happen again.
The Main Street Caucus, composed of House Republicans who bill themselves as “pragmatic,” released a statement Wednesday criticizing the one-person threshold to force a vote on ousting a Speaker.
“Personal politics should never again be used to trump the will of 96% of House conservatives. Any candidate for Speaker must explain to us how what happened on Tuesday will never happen again,” the group said in a statement.
While Republicans grapple with who to nominate, there are practical reasons to move quickly. The House cannot function regularly until they elect a Speaker, and it is facing a new Nov. 17 government shutdown deadline.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said a new Speaker decision “better damn well be” next week. “We’ve got to get it done.”
Mychael Schnell, Miranda Nazzaro and Aris Folley contributed.