WASHINGTON — Republicans met Tuesday evening to hear from the two candidates to be the next speaker of the House, but afterward, it appeared doubtful either could win the near-unanimous Republican support needed to get the gavel.
“We’ve got two good leaders within our party with good perspectives on where the party needs to go and an understanding and an emphasis on reuniting the party,” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) told reporters after emerging from the closed-door meeting.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted last week after allowing the House to vote on and pass a bill avoiding a government shutdown. Reps. Steve Scalise (La.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) are running to replace him. Some Republicans think McCarthy should get his old job back.
On Tuesday, McCarthy suggested he would prefer to stay out of the race.
“They got candidates already,” McCarthy told HuffPost when asked if he would serve as speaker again.
Scalise said after the meeting that the conflict between Hamas and Israel showed the need to resolve the issue quickly.
“People want to see us get back on track. We need a Congress that’s working. Tomorrow, we need to get Congress back to work,” Scalise said.
One potential deciding factor may be House Republicans’ appetite to take the White House back to the brink of, or even into, a government shutdown in mid-November when current funding expires. Jordan is seen as the more hard-line of the two speaker candidates and wanted to tie keeping the government open to scrapping funding for processing migrants seeking asylum in the U.S.
Avoiding a government shutdown needs to be the priority, said Garcia, who has not endorsed either candidate.
After McCarthy’s ouster, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) became interim speaker, though his main job is to oversee an election for a new speaker. With no clear alternative to McCarthy in sight, McHenry sent lawmakers home for the weekend.
The House’s paralysis showed up Tuesday in the form of a symbolic resolution of support for Israel. Normally it would be no problem for the House to approve such a resolution, but that’s not the case now as the House is essentially shut down after Republicans threw out McCarthy.
As for the Israel resolution, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) introduced it Tuesday with the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), following the massive attack on Israel over the weekend by Hamas, a group that has been designated by the State Department as terrorists. In unveiling the resolution, the pair noted it had 390 co-sponsors. That’s 90% of the current full House membership of 433 members.
The resolution says the House “stands with Israel as it defends itself against the barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists;” “condemns Hamas’ brutal war against Israel;” and “reaffirms the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security,” among other things.
Usually, such resolutions are voted on under a process reserved for uncontroversial bills like renaming post offices for local famous figures, but that requires a two-thirds majority for approval. Even that process has been sidelined by the lack of a speaker.
It’s unclear exactly what McHenry’s powers are while he retains the gavel. While the rules put in place at the beginning of the 118th Congress remain intact, McHenry’s ascension is unique in that it came after McCarthy’s historic ouster and the legislative language outlining his speaker pro tempore role can be interpreted as restricting his activities to those needed to select a new speaker or more loosely.
McCaul said the resolution would likely not see a vote until a speaker is installed.
“I expect this bipartisan resolution to be one of the first, if not the first, items considered on the floor once we elect a new speaker,” McCaul said. “And I expect it to receive overwhelming bipartisan support.”
The House overwhelmingly passed a Republican resolution reaffirming U.S. support for Israel in July after Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) called Israel a “racist state” for its systematic mistreatment of Palestinians.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) said there’s a contingent of his colleagues insisting that McCarthy return to the speakership, and also a “side quest” from some Republicans who want to change the party’s internal rules on how it nominates its speaker candidates. Massie suggested he was skeptical his colleagues would be able hash things out in private.
“For this to converge, I think we’re going to have to have some public votes,” Massie told HuffPost.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) said that rather than fighting over their speaker, Republicans should hash out a plan for when government funding runs out next month.
“I think we need a plan more than a person right now,” Westerman said. “We got to figure out how we’re going to govern going forward and we need some buy-in around that.”