House Republicans Go Back to Drawing Board as Speaker Search Nears 3-Week Mark

Lawrence Wilson
By Lawrence Wilson
October 23, 2023Congress

House Republicans return to Washington on Oct. 23 for a third attempt to elect a speaker in as many weeks.

The deeply divided Republican conference is back to square one in its quest for a leader after a tumultuous series of events that began with the ouster of the former speaker and includes the failed candidacies of two Republican speaker designees.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has been essentially closed for nearly three full weeks.

With tensions flaring among GOP members, Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) dismissed lawmakers for the weekend on Oct. 20 saying, “We need space and time for candidates to talk to other members.”

Over the weekend, nine Republicans announced their bid for the speakership: Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Min.), Reps. Mike Johnson (R-La.), Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Kevin Hern (R-Okla), Jack Bergman (R-Mich.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), and Dan Meuser (R-Pa.).

Mr. McHenry said he hoped that his temporary duties would end this week with the election of a speaker.


GOP members are increasingly impatient to resolve the matter and get back to work. On the table are a request from President Joe Biden to provide wartime support to Ukraine and Israel, the unfinished appropriations process which must be resolved by Nov. 17 to avoid a government shutdown, and the security of the southern border, a high priority for Republicans.

“If we don’t have a Speaker of the House, we can’t govern. And every day goes by, we’re essentially shut down as a government,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said on the ABC News program “This Week” on Oct. 22.

Senate Republicans, though wary of giving advice to their House colleagues, have also shown signs of impatience.

“Look, I’m not an expert on the House,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on “Face the Nation” on Oct. 22. “I have my hands full here in the Senate, and we’re going to do our job and hope the House can get functional here sometime soon.”

More than two-thirds of Americans say the House should elect a speaker as soon as possible according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Oct. 22. An Oct. 12 CNN/SSRS poll showed that 74 percent of respondents disapprove of the way Republican leaders in Congress are handling their jobs.

NTD Photo
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) speaks at a press conference held by the group Americans for Tax Reform outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on April 18, 2023. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Republicans briefly considered a workaround last week that was aimed at opening the House for business while the speaker race continues. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who was speaker designee at the time, and other Republicans proposed the idea to temporarily invest Mr. McHenry with the full powers of the speakership.

Mr. Jordan later said it was an attempt to “lower the temperature” within the tense Republican conference while allowing the House to conduct business.

The matter was dropped on Oct. 19 after a large number of Republicans opposed the idea.

Hard Work Ahead

Whoever claims the gavel will also inherit the challenge of governing with an often-ungovernable majority.

Mr. McCarthy was ousted from the speakership on Oct. 3 by eight Republicans over the objection of 210 others. The move was successful only because 208 Democrats joined the effort.

Prior to that, a similar small group of GOP members defeated a continuing resolution presented by the very conservative House Freedom Caucus and the more pragmatic Main Street Caucus.

The proposed 30-day extension of spending accompanied by an overall 8 percent cut in non-defense discretionary spending was intended to forestall an imminent government shutdown while allowing more time to complete the 2024 appropriations process.

Republican infighting during the 118th Congress has caused some observers to wonder if any speaker can bring the Republican conference to heel.

NTD Photo
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) leaves a closed-door House Republican meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 20, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“There’s a very real danger that [the House will] elect somebody, and three or four or five weeks from now, you’re going to have a group of people blow up and decide to go back into the same mess,” former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “So they need to pick somebody to get stability.”

Previous candidates for the speakership were undone by their perceived leaning in one ideological direction or another.

Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) was elected speaker designee on Oct. 11. His candidacy was derailed almost immediately by supporters of his opponent, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who considered Mr. Scalise too tied to the insider politics of Washington by virtue of his position in conference leadership.

Mr. Jordan was the elected speaker designee. But his candidacy was undone by mostly more moderate members who objected to Mr. Jordan’s seemingly aggressive leadership and far-right policy positions.

Both candidates were well-known outside the House of Representatives. Most of the nine candidates in the next round have much lower profiles. Collectively, they present a range of ideological viewpoints within Republican conservatism.

Republicans are slated to meet at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 23 for their candidate forum.

A conference vote on the candidates is expected at 9:00 a.m. on Oct. 24.

Mr. McHenry said he hoped to see a vote on the conference floor as early as Oct. 24 with the election concluded by Oct. 27.

From The Epoch Times

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