October 13, 2023
Today marks ten days since the United States House of Representatives voted to toss out the speaker, leaving the House unable to conduct business. This situation is unprecedented. And yet the Republicans cannot manage to elect a new speaker from among their ranks, and the party’s leadership refuses to work with the Democrats, who remain united behind House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Jeffries has repeatedly offered to work with the Republicans.
Now the House has recessed for the weekend.
With a war in Europe and a war in the Middle East and government funding running out on November 17, not to mention all the other work that falls to Congress, the House did not hold a single floor vote this week.
Essentially, the Republican extremists have paralyzed the government in the midst of an unusually dangerous time. While President Joe Biden and the Democrats are trying to demonstrate that democracy works better than authoritarianism, they seem bent on undermining that idea.
Here’s how the day played out: After Louisiana representative Steve Scalise withdrew from the contest yesterday, Ohio representative Jim Jordan was the only one running until a relatively unknown representative, Austin Scott of Georgia, threw his hat in the ring as an anti-Jordan candidate. Scott, who had previously taken a stand against the extremists, said: “We are in Washington to legislate, and I want to lead a House that functions in the best interest of the American people.” When the conference voted, Scott won 81 votes to Jordan’s 124, with 16 of the members not showing up for the vote.
When the conference held another secret vote to count how many people would support Jordan in a floor vote, only 152 said they would. Fifty-five said no, and one voted present. Jordan remains a long way from the 217 votes he needs to win the chair if all members are present, and his allies’ threats to vulnerable members that if they did not support him they could expect to face primary challenges did not endear him to the holdouts.
Some Republicans are now calling for acting speaker Patrick McHenry (R-NC) to have more powers than simply arranging for the election of a new speaker. But since the Constitution specifies that “[t]he House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker” and McHenry was tapped by former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) alone to replace him in case of an emergency, that’s likely going to be a hard sell.
Others are hoping to reelect McCarthy himself. While McCarthy says he is backing Jordan, he is also spending time in front of the television cameras acting like a leader. Being begged to reclaim the speakership would undoubtedly give him more power than he had before the extremists toppled him.
It remains astonishing that the Republicans would consider making Jordan speaker. The hallmarks of that position are an ability to negotiate and to shepherd legislation through Congress (think of all former speaker Nancy Pelosi got done with the same slim majority the Republicans have). Jordan has none of those qualities; he is a flamethrower who, in 16 years in the House, has not managed to get a single bill through the House, let alone into law. Jordan’s elevation would reflect that for many years now, Republicans have elevated those who disdain government and whose goal is to stop it from working.
Jordan is also a key Trump ally who worked to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) has been clear she opposes Jordan’s elevation to House speaker. Today she wrote:
“Jim Jordan was involved in Trump’s conspiracy to steal the election and seize power; he urged that [former vice president Mike] Pence refuse to count lawful electoral votes. If R[epublican]s nominate Jordan to be Speaker, they will be abandoning the Constitution. They’ll lose the House majority and they’ll deserve to.”
The Republicans plan to hold yet another conference on Monday and hope to elect a speaker on Tuesday. But it is not at all clear they can agree on a candidate. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE) is one of those who is beginning to talk about bipartisanship as a matter of practicality. “A lot of folks are in denial but you're never gonna get eight or 10 folks on board. And so I think the bipartisan path is going to be the only way out,” he told Arthur Delany of HuffPost.
(Another limited letter tonight, just to mark events that are U.S.- and time-specific. I’ll catch up on other big stories in the next few days.)