U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks to members of the press at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 19, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — A resolution meant to temporarily allow U.S. House Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry of North Carolina to move critical legislation won’t be acted on, House Republicans said following a tense, closed-door meeting on Thursday.
But it appeared that the House will vote a third time on whether Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan will serve as speaker. On Thursday night, House Democrats said in their whip notice that a floor vote on a speaker was expected as soon as 10 a.m. Eastern on Friday, after Jordan spent hours meeting with holdout members of his party.
Jordan, a founder of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus who has sustained two failed attempts at election on the floor as speaker, said he is still in the running for the gavel, even though 22 Republicans voted against him for speaker on the most recent ballot.
“Particularly, I want to talk with the 20 individuals who voted against me, so that we can move forward and begin to work,” he said after the closed-door meeting with the GOP conference.
Several Republicans who voted against Jordan, including Iowa’s Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Georgia’s Drew Ferguson and Nebraska’s Don Bacon, have received death threats and other threatening messages, hardening their resolve not to let him become speaker.
Virginia Rep. Jen Kiggans, who voted against Jordan on the second ballot, told reporters that empowering McHenry for a few months is the “right thing to do.”
“We have real work that all Americans want us to do,” Kiggans said. “That’s what I want to do. That’s why I ran for Congress. So I support that resolution.”
Kiggans told reporters that Jordan plans to talk with all of the Republicans who oppose him to try to find a way to earn their votes. But she said it’s unlikely he sways the number he needs to his side.
“I don’t think he’s going to get there,” Kiggans said.
McHenry told reporters before the meeting that he would listen to what House Republicans want.
“I have not asked for additional powers. It’s my duty to get the next speaker elected, that’s my focus,” McHenry said.
The speaker pro tem option
Florida Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, who opposed Jordan on both ballots, praised McHenry’s abilities to lead.
“McHenry is an amazing legislator. He is a principled, tough, smart legislator and he has shown that for years and years and years of being in the fight,” Díaz-Balart said. “And so I have full confidence in McHenry for so many reasons to do so many different things.”
But other House Republicans opposed the idea of giving McHenry the ability to run the floor, saying the party needs to unite around an actual speaker.
Florida Rep. Kat Cammack told reporters that Republicans’ meeting became “heated” at times.
“You have the people who started the fire, now demanding that other people put out the fire,” Cammack said. “And so I think people are just really trying to figure out how they can unite around a body that has really done the self-inflicting wound that is causing all this consternation.”
Cammack said she didn’t believe empowering McHenry to run the House floor through early January was a good idea, noting he has also expressed concerns about the idea.
“I’m deeply appreciative of Patrick McHenry and his willingness to be that constitutional conservative in this moment where he’s saying ‘No, I’m not going to assume any additional authorities that haven’t been expressly granted to me,’” Cammack said.
House Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry of Pennsylvania told reporters he’s “not a fan” of giving McHenry any official authority.
“I think it’s very dangerous,” Perry said. “We should elect a speaker, not have one crowned by some kind of rule that’s meant, I think, for if the speaker is unfortunately incapacitated by some terrorist attack. That’s not the case here.”
Perry said he would be open to “any election whoever the candidates are” for speaker, but noted that Jordan has gotten about 200 votes on the floor and that McHenry holds the role of speaker pro tem because former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who was ousted by the GOP conference, put his name on a list.
“It doesn’t seem to necessarily reflect the majority, but if we have a vote and it reflects the majority then that’s what it does,” Perry said.
Electing McHenry as speaker pro tem, Perry said, is one of the “alternative proposals” but he said he didn’t think anyone had “coalesced around” that idea.
Texas Rep. Chip Roy told reporters Republicans had a debate on Thursday within their meeting about the “constitutional implications” of electing McHenry as speaker pro tem.
“I think a speaker pro tem has historically only been there in the context of already having a duly elected speaker,” Roy said. “And I think that’s what we are called to do by the Constitution. So we should go do it.”
Florida Rep. Byron Donalds told reporters that there needs to be “unanimous support” among Republicans before a resolution to empower McHenry as a temporary speaker could go to the floor for a vote.
Donalds said the No. 1 issue for the House GOP should be electing a speaker.
“To my colleagues who wanted to support it, I don’t understand why they wanted to support it. Because time is of the essence,” Donalds said. “There’s a lot of things that we have to do.”
North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson told reporters he believes empowering McHenry as speaker pro tem could still be an option.
Kentucky Rep. Andy Barr told reporters that Jordan needs to be the one to decide if he withdraws from the speaker’s race.
Republicans would likely need to define what roles Jordan would play as a speaker nominee and what responsibilities would fall under McHenry as an elected speaker pro tem, if the party moves forward with the proposal.
The role of a designated speaker pro tempore was established in House rules following 9/11 as a way to ensure the chamber could keep functioning in the event of a catastrophic event.
After McCarthy was elected speaker in January, he gave a list of designated speakers pro tem to the clerk of the House. McHenry was the first name on that list and took on the role after McCarthy was removed from office.
There has been debate since that happened about how much authority McHenry actually has as the designated speaker pro tem.
Some experts have argued that because the role was created as a way to ensure continuity of government, it’s likely that McHenry has more power than he’s been exercising. That could, but might not, include bringing up resolutions and bills for floor debate.
Others, including an expert in House procedure, have said that the role is extremely limited and purely exists to facilitate the election of the next speaker.
Electing a speaker pro tem on the floor, however, is very different and would definitively give McHenry the authority to run the chamber much like an actual speaker could.
But Republicans would need to determine who acts as their representative outside of the House chamber, including in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate and Biden administration on must-pass legislation.
House Republicans’ ongoing stalemate over who should lead their party has delayed legislative work on several important issues, including funding the government ahead of a Nov. 17 deadline and reconciling differences between the two chambers on the annual defense policy bill.
The Biden administration is also expected to send Congress a supplemental spending request for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the U.S. southwest border as soon as Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, has said that chamber will move first to approve an emergency spending bill, but the House will be needed to send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Sixteen days without a speaker
The U.S. House has been without a speaker for 16 days after eight Republicans and Democrats voted to remove California’s McCarthy from the post.
House GOP lawmakers have had heated internal deliberations since then about the best path forward for the party amid divided government.
Louisiana’s Steve Scalise won House Republicans’ first nomination vote for speaker, but he never brought his bid for the gavel to the House floor amid opposition from far-right conservative lawmakers.
Scalise, instead, withdrew from consideration after just one day as his party’s nominee.
Jordan then reentered the race, backed by many of his especially conservative allies, who refused to support Scalise when he was the nominee. Georgia’s Austin Scott entered as well, but mostly to force a debate within the conference.
After Jordan won the House Republican Conference nomination on Friday, more than 50 House Republicans said in a secret ballot that they wouldn’t back him for speaker during a floor vote.
Jordan and his allies have had some success winning holdouts to their side, but he lost the first ballot for speaker on the floor on Tuesday with 20 GOP lawmakers voting against him and then lost the second ballot vote on Wednesday with 22 Republicans opposing his bid.
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