Candidates Emerge in Both Parties That Could Provide a Political Thriller
The dethroning of Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker won’t instantly produce a new a leader capable of pushing through appropriations or, if necessary, another Continuing Resolution to keep the government afloat. Expect more chaos.
Stymied without an elected speaker, House members took the rest of this week off and won’t return until Tuesday. That leaves plenty of time for the pot to boil on who can grab enough votes to become speaker.
Two Republicans have thrown their hat into the ring – Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, the current House Majority Leader, and Congressman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of House Judiciary and a member of the conservative faction of the House GOP caucus, though not one of the eight Republicans who voted out McCarthy. Congressman Kevin Hern, R-Oklahoma, chair of the Republican Study Committee, also is testing the water.
The temporary speaker, Congressman Patrick T. McHenry, R-North Carolina, has supporters urging him to enter the race. Some members of the far-right faction suggest former President Trump would be a good choice. The House Speaker doesn’t have to be an elected member.
Scalise might seem the obvious choice as next in line behind McCarthy, except for concerns over his health. He has blood cancer, which he says it is treatable.
Jordan has his admirers but probably more detractors inside and outside his caucus who are turned off by his over-the-top style, penchant for bombshell announcements and rabid defense of Trump.
McHenry, a 10-term congressional veteran who sports a bowtie, is an intriguing choice because of his legislative expertise on finances, but he may not want to take on the thankless job of trying to manage a contentious GOP caucus. He was a member of House GOP leadership but stepped away when Democrats won control in 2018. He played a key role in assisting McCarthy negotiate a debt ceiling deal with President Biden.
Trump, at least so far, has dismissed the idea, saying he is running to return to the White House. He also has a heavy schedule in courtrooms involving four criminal cases and one civil fraud case underway in New York. He has endorsed Jordan’s candidacy.
Democrats are huddling and may offer their own speaker nominee
Democratic Speaker Candidate
Into that chaos come Democrats who will huddle next Tuesday to consider putting forward their own speaker candidate. That may seem like a lost cause for a minority party but may not be totally far-fetched.
There are 210 House Democrats and it takes 218 votes to elect a Speaker in a 435-member chamber – unless lawmakers vote “present”, which lowers the number of votes needed to win the speakership. Combine that arithmetic with the 14 GOP House members who represent congressional districts carried by President Biden in 2020 who may be wary of voting for a hard-right speaker candidate that could jeopardize their re-election.
House Republicans also will meet Tuesday to see if they can pound out a consensus on a McCarthy replacement. Chances are they can’t. Remember it took 15 rounds of voting back in January to elect McCarthy, and then only after he made significant concessions to right-wing members, including an easy pathway to fire him.
For Scalise to become the consensus candidate, he would probably have to make similar concessions to the right-wing as McCarthy did. With just more than a month until the current stopgap funding measure expires, that could mean more stalemate on the 12 pending appropriations and a supplemental Ukraine aid package requested by Biden. Jordan has already made clear he opposes more aid to Ukraine and favors pushing for deeper spending cuts.
McHenry, who brags he has never voted for tax increase, has the conservative financial credentials to lead Republicans through the spending maze that lies ahead. Interestingly, McHenry was handpicked by McCarthy to preside over a motion to vacate the speakership, which could make the far-right faction nervous.
Swing District Republicans
For those potentially vulnerable House members, this isn’t a scene they may want to defend in their Democratically leaning districts. After all, they represent the districts Republicans flipped to gain control.
It’s not inconceivable, this group might be persuaded to indirectly support a moderate Democrat as a coalition speaker by not voting. Fourteen non-voting members almost enough to enable a Democratic minority to carry the day. If McCarthy became the 15th Republican voting “present”, it would be enough.
It would be a career-making moment for moderate Republicans to embrace, but it might be easier to explain voting for a coalition-run House with a Democrat as speaker rather than a hamstrung GOP caucus with right-wing members spoiling for a government shutdown.
Bittersweet Moment for McCarthy
Whatever happens, it promises to be a bittersweet moment for McCarthy, who has pledged not to seek the speakership again. Whether he sees an avenue to avenge his own defrocking and put himself back in the picture of deciding the direction the House takes is anyone’s guess. He’s no fan of Democrats, and Democrats who voted in lockstep to boot him out aren’t buddy-buddy with him either. But chaos can produce strange bedfellows.
For McCarthy, who defended the actions that cost him his speakership as “choosing governance over grievance”, it might not be such a strange bed after all.
Of course, no one knows what will happen next week when the House is scheduled to vote on a new speaker. All that’s certain for now is that a GOP caucus consensus for speaker doesn’t exist and may be unachievable, while the 210 Democrats seem unified behind their leader, Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York.
Impact on 2024 Elections
Whatever happens, and however long it takes to happen, could have an outsized impact on the 2024 elections when all 435 House seats are up for grabs. Some GOP analysts already predict it will be difficult for Republicans to hold on to their House majority, especially if the Supreme Court determines that congressional redistricting in several southern states runs afoul of the equal representation provision of the Voting Rights Act. New maps are already being drawn for Alabama’s 2024 congressional elections.
Oregon’s 5th Congressional District is viewed as a swing district. Freshman Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer won the newly drawn seat by just 2 percentage points in 2022 over Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who is running again. Two other Democrats are in the race – Lynn Peterson, Metro chair and a former Clackamas County Commission chair, and Rep. Janelle Bynum, serving her third term in the Oregon House. Bynum won the seat and her first re-election by defeating Chavez-DeRemer.