WASHINGTON— Three weeks now since the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, House Republicans will meet privately to try nominating a new House speaker to accomplish the seemingly impossible job of uniting a broken, bitter GOP majority and returning to the work of governing in Congress.
Having dispatched their speaker then rejected two popular GOP figures as replacements, the House Republicans on Tuesday will be voting instead on a hodge-podge of lesser-known congressmen for speaker, a powerful position second in line to the presidency. The private session could take all day before a nominee emerges.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to get our act together — I mean, big boys and big girls have got to quit making excuses and we just got to get it done,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., a conservative caucus leader.
The candidate list is long and jumbled with no obvious choice for the job. There’s a former McDonald’s franchise owner Rep. Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, a conservative leader, who plied his colleagues with hamburgers seeking their support; Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the gruff former hockey coach who reached out to Donald Trump for backing; newcomer Byron Donalds of Florida, a well-liked Trump ally, and a half dozen others.
No one is expected to emerge from first-round voting and Republicans are planning to stay behind closed doors until they can agree on a nominee. Some have pushed for a signed pledge to abide by rules to support the majority winner, but holdouts remain. The plan is to hold a House floor vote later this week.
“I feel good, but it’s up to the members — it’s in their hands now,” said Donalds after a candidate forum late Monday evening.
The House has been in turmoil, without a speaker since the start of the month after a contingent of hardline Republicans ousted McCarthy, creating what’s now a governing crisis that’s preventing the normal operations of Congress.
The federal government risks a shutdown in a matter of weeks if Congress fails to pass funding legislation by a Nov. 17 deadline to keep services and offices running. More immediately, President Joe Biden has asked Congress to provide $105 billion in aid — to help Israel and Ukraine amid their wars and to shore up the U.S. border with Mexico. Federal aviation and farming programs face expiration without action.
Many Election Deniers Among Speaker Candidates
Those running for speaker are mostly conservatives and election deniers, who either voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election results, when Biden defeated Trump, in the run up to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, or joined a subsequent lawsuit challenging the results.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, the hard-right leader who engineered McCarthy’s ouster, has said several of those in the running — Hern, Donalds or Rep. Mike Johnson, a constitutional law expert from Louisiana, would make a “phenomenal” choice for speaker.
Also running are Reps. Jack Bergman of Michigan, Austin Scott of Georgia, who had briefly challenged Jordan with a protest bid, Pete Sessions of Texas and Gary Palmer of Alabama. Rep. Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania withdrew from the race.
What Gaetz and other hard-liners are resisting is a leader who joined in voting for the budget deal that McCarthy struck with Biden earlier this year, which set federal spending levels that the far-right Republicans don’t agree with and now want to undo. They are pursuing steeper cuts to federal programs and services with next month’s funding deadline.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said she wanted assurances the candidates would pursue impeachment inquiries into Biden and other top Cabinet officials.
Republicans gathered late in the evening Monday to hear quick speeches from the congressmen seeking the job, elevator pitches ahead of Tuesday’s internal party voting. They have also heard from voters back home who want them to get back to work and appeared ready to try to move on.
“There seems to be some sort of compromise in the room,” said Rep, Nick LaLota, a more centrist New York Republican after the hours-long session.
Senior-most among the hopefuls is Emmer, and he and others are reaching out to Trump for backing.
“They all called asking for support,” said Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race, who was in New Hampshire registering for the state’s primary ballot.
Trump downplayed, even derided, Emmer, the third-ranking House Republican with whom he has had a rocky relationship, while presenting himself as a kingmaker who talks to “a lot of congressmen” seeking his stamp of approval.
Of Emmer, Trump said, “I think he’s my biggest fan now, because he called me yesterday and told me I’m your biggest fan.”
Yet factional power plays run strong on Capitol Hill among the so-called “five families” that make up the House Republican majority.
Launched over right-flank complaints about McCarthy’s leadership in budget battles, it’s no longer clear what the House Republicans are fighting for and if they will end up with a more acceptable speaker.
Trump has intervened from the sidelines backing hard-charging Rep. Jim Jordan over Majority Leader Steve Scalise. But Republicans dropped Jordan as their nominee last week in part because of the hardball tactics, including death threats by the Ohio Republican’s supporters.
“Most of these guys and gals can’t be bullied to do anything,” said Johnson of South Dakota. “You’re gonna have to use persuasion.”
Trump, brushing back suggestions that he take the gavel himself, suggested Monday that no one is capable of uniting the House Republicans.
“There’s only one person who can do it all the way: Jesus Christ,” he declared in New Hampshire.
Amid the turmoil, the House is now led by a nominal interim speaker pro tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., the bow-tie-wearing chairman of the Financial Services Committee whose main job is to elect a more permanent speaker.
Some Republicans — and Democrats — would like to simply give McHenry more power to get on with the routine business of governing. But McHenry, the first person to be in the position that was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as an emergency measure, has declined to back those overtures.