Crowded field, muddled ways forward emerge in Republican push to replace McCarthy

by Will Tubbs

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

 

As the House of Representatives sits without a full-time Speaker, the only certainties are that neither a Democrat nor former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will hold the job next. 

After those broad facts, nothing is a given as Republicans are jostling to see who can garner enough support to clear the minimum-vote threshold. 

McCarthy has already announced he will not seek the job a second time and it’s unlikely he’d get the votes even if he did. The majority of Republicans sided with him in the recent move-to-vacate vote, but those votes were not enough to allow him to keep his job and would not be enough to reappoint him. 

With no prospect of Democrat support, having already lost eight Republican votes, and having only barely gotten the votes needed to assume the position back in January, the math is not in McCarthy’s favor. 

“I will not seek to run again for Speaker of the House,” McCarthy tweeted Tuesday. “I may have lost a vote today, but I fought for what I believe in—and I believe in America. It has been an honor to serve.

The problem for Republicans, though, is that it is far from given that anyone on the right has enough support within the party to clear the vote hurdle. 

Certainly, there are strong candidates – Jim Jordan of Ohio, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and Kevin Hern of Oklahoma rank among the early favorites – but each faces a challenge. 

Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, would easily carry the Freedom Caucus vote since he is a member of the group and among its leaders. 

The Ohio congressman is already acting like the speaker. He made an appearance on Fox News to plug his vision for the House.

“I think the first thing you do is you pass the bipartisan bill that’s in the Senate,” Jordan said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends”. “We take that bill up here in the House and we pass it. It’s no shutdown act.”

The bill to which Jordan referred was once crafted by Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.). If passed, the bill would create a system of automatically renewing continuing resolutions that would prevent a government shutdown while negotiations continue. 

“That would take this whole shutdown politics, shutdown scenario, shutdown stuff off the table,” Jordan said. “You do that and then you focus on the legislation, and frankly, if we need some kind of continuing resolution or some stopgap measure, I think it should go all the way in the next year.”

Despite his call for bipartisanship, Jordan is not popular with Republican moderates, which could spell his doom in the vote. 

Republicans in blue states and those in vulnerable seats would likely have a difficult time justifying support for a congressman with such strong ties to the farther-right elements of the party to their moderate bases. 

HERN AND SCALISE COURT MAGA AND MODERATE VOTE

Moderates are more likely to lean toward Hern, the chair of a different powerful caucus – the Republican Study Committee. 

Although not a moderate, Hern is better connected with the non-Freedom Caucus crowd. 

Indeed, the study committee has 156 members, including those who are more associated with the MAGA movement. Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert nominated Hern, and the likes of Florida’s Byron Donalds, Louisiana’s Clay Higgins, and Texas’ Chip Roy – all well-liked by the deeply conservative crowd – are members. 

Like Jordan, Hern has focused on fiscal responsibility as the calling card of his candidacy. 

“What’s the problem in Congress?” Hern tweeted. “It’s simple. After 20 years of no budget, you lose your muscle memory. Disgraceful.”

The problem for Hern is that he lacks the national prominence of a Jordan and cannot necessarily count on even the 156 votes represented by the study committee’s membership. 

That could open a door for Scalise, who is a more established name on the national stage and, though not a member of the Freedom Caucus, is well known to be close with Trump. He’s also a member of the study committee, which could provide him with the magic formula to a way forward. 

Scalise, the House Majority Leader, is perhaps best known for having been shot by a left-wing lunatic on a softball field, a moment he said gives him hope for a unified Republican Party. 

“I firmly believe this Conference is a family,” Scalise said while announcing his desire to become Speaker. “When I was shot in 2017, it was Members of this Conference who saved my life on that field. When I made it to the hospital and my family was told my chances of surviving were low, it was the prayers from all of you that carried us through. 

Scalise later added, “I love this country, and I believe we were sent here to come together and solve the immense challenges we face. As I face new challenges, I feel even more strongly about that today. I know the coming weeks ahead will be some of the most arduous times we will face together, but this Conference is worth fighting for – we cannot lose sight of our shared mission. Now, more than ever, we must mend the deep wounds that exist within our Conference and focus on our objectives so we can get back to work for the millions of people who are counting on us.”

As fervent as Scalise’s belief in the ability of Republicans to come together, he might face the same challenge as McCarthy. It’s easy to envision a scenario in which Scalise lacks a small number of votes, all of which would belong to the Freedom Caucus. 

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz has already been critical of Scalise, which while not fatal bodes poorly for the Louisianan. 

TRUMP CARD ON THE TABLE

In the most telling example of “only in the current political atmosphere could this happen,” there is a chance that Trump could become Speaker of the House. 

Gaetz has already nominated him and the former president has stated he would serve in a temporary capacity if called upon to do so. 

“A lot of people have been calling me about speaker. All I can say is we’ll do whatever is best for the country and the Republican Party,” Trump told reporters Wednesday in Manhattan.

Speaking to Fox News Digital, Trump indicated his primary focus is on running for president, but that he would serve for several months if voted into the position. 

“I have been asked to speak as a unifier because I have so many friends in Congress,” Trump said. “If they don’t get the vote, they have asked me if I would consider taking the speakership until they get somebody longer-term, because I am running for president.”

But before Trump plans his travel to the Capitol, or liberal observers fall into apoplexy, it’s important to note that the likelihood of a Trump speakership is remote. 

While there is no law that says the speaker must be a member of Congress, there has never been a non-congressperson in the role. 

Moreover, there are rules in place that prevent anyone with felony indictments from serving, meaning for Trump to serve, the rules would have to be changed. While possible, this would be a legislative longshot.  

The more likely role for Trump in the coming weeks will be as kingmaker, although it remains to be seen if he would do this in the open or behind closed doors. 

Even if the unprecedented occurred and Trump became Speaker, he would eventually still serve as a key cog in the selection of his successor. 

Trump has the ability to bridge the divide between the Freedom Caucus and the party writ large. 

But that will open a new line of questions and uncertainties. 

Trump is friends with Jordan and Scalise, and at least friendly with Hern, so who would he back? Late Thursday, Fox News reported Trump was leaning toward Jordan, but that wouldn’t necessarily end the mystery. 

Would a public endorsement from Trump result in a moment when Republican moderates assume the position Gaetz did in January and throw up protest candidates for the purpose of denying a Trump-endorsed candidate the votes necessary to win? 

Ultimately, the speaker’s gavel will hinge on mathematics, public pressures, and political expediency. In a closely divided House, success and failure are never more than a baker’s dozen votes away. 

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