House Republicans are leaderless and rudderless as they go back to the drawing board to sketch a path out of the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.
Internal division and opposition led to Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) withdrawing his name from the Speaker’s race Thursday, just one day after he won the party’s nomination for the gavel.
Some members are rushing to rally support behind the runner-up in the internal election, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who said he would wait until Friday to announce his intentions. But even the founding member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus appears to have an uphill battle to unite the fractious GOP conference.
As Republicans prepare to meet again Friday to game out a new path forward, many members are left wondering who — if anyone — could rally enough support to win the Speakership and resume legislative business in the House.
“I’m a freshman caught up in this maelstrom; we’re a ship that doesn’t have a rudder right now, and I’m thoroughly disappointed in the process,” Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.), who said he was surprised by Scalise’s announcement, told reporters following the GOP meeting.
Meanwhile, the House is paralyzed and unable to push through legislation as war breaks out in Israel and the clock ticks closer to a Nov. 17 government funding deadline, raising the stakes for the House lawmakers.
“My consistent point here is any differences we have in this room may seem big in the room, but in the context of China on the march, Russia on the march, terrorism on the march because they smell weakness in Washington, those differences are infinitesimal,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) told reporters. “We need to get over it, get our heads out of our rear end, as we say in the Army, and get back to work.”
It is far from the first time the House GOP’s internal chaos has spilled out into the public and thrown Congress into limbo. But it may be the most difficult situation yet, leaving members exceedingly frustrated and pessimistic.
“We really need to get our act together. This is a continuation of a pretty dysfunctional disease of the 118th [Congress],” Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) said Thursday before Scalise withdrew his name.
With Scalise now out, a number of lawmakers say it is Jordan’s turn to try and rally up enough support for the gavel.
“I think the first step we should look at is Congressman Jordan, remember, got half of the votes. We should put it back to the floor and see if we can get him get to 217,” Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), who eyed his own bid for Speaker earlier this month, told reporters.
But a Jordan Speakership bid is already facing difficulties.
Republican Reps. Ann Wagner (Mo.) and Austin Scott (Ga.) told reporters at Politico, Punchbowl News and CNN following Thursday’s meeting that they will not support Jordan for Speaker. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said Scott stood up in the closed-door meeting and announced his opposition to Jordan.
The Ohio Republican will need near-unanimous support from the House Republicans to win the gavel on the House floor, a tall task for any lawmaker — as evidenced by Scalise’s foiled bid — in the splintered GOP conference.
“The problem is, I think there’s enough people that would see what has happened and transpired over the last 40 hours to not support him, that we’re gonna have the same problem with Jordan that we had with Scalise,” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) told reporters. “I think it’s a math problem, frankly. So that’s the challenge we got.”
The conference, he said Thursday, is “all thrust and no vector.”
And Jordan is not the only potential contender for Speaker. Other names that have been floated include House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who had been angling for majority leader if Scalise moved up to Speaker.
Emmer did not directly answer Thursday night after Scalise’s withdrawal announcement whether he would seek the Speaker’s gavel, replying: “I’m very disappointed.”
Friday will mark the sixth time in five days that the conference has met as it struggles to find a viable replacement for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who was ousted from the position last week after eight Republicans joined Democrats to boot him from the post. Members will consider proposals on how to change the internal conference rules for selecting a new Speaker.
Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said the conference is expected to once again consider an amendment from Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) that would require 217 votes within the conference — just enough needed to assure a win on the House floor.
But in lieu of meeting such a high threshold, Arrington said the conference may also settle on another figure beyond the current simple majority required.
“People [are] saying, ‘Well you only have a little more than half the conference.’ It may go up to a higher threshold when people say, ‘Hey, you can get X percent, and we’ll feel better going in.’ So those are just things that have been kicked around,” he said.
Republicans killed Roy’s proposal just before just before the nomination election Wednesday, in a move that enraged Roy and other members and fueled their resistance to supporting Scalise on the House floor. Scalise allies had opposed the rule, and members said K Street lobbyists worked the phones opposing it as well.
Other measures could also be considered. Rep. Russ Fulcher (R-Idaho) said Thursday night that he would introduce a rule change at Friday’s conference meeting in an effort to have a dual Scalise-Jordan ticket lead the party.
But with no guarantee that Republicans will unite behind a Speaker any time soon, some members are eyeing an option to address the war in Israel and avert a government shutdown next month by giving Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) more power to move legislation and oversee the House floor.
A letter is circulating among more moderate members backing the prospect of drafting a resolution to give McHenry more latitude.
McHenry has resisted calling for more power.
“I think the best thing for the institution right now is for us to have a Speaker-designee who goes through a formal election on the floor,” he said Thursday evening.
Rebecca Beitsch contributed.