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No Temporary Fixes

House Republicans abandon a plan that would have given Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry authority until January.

House Lawmakers Work Towards Electing New Speaker On Capitol Hill

On Wednesday, The American Conservative published a State of the Union blog post titled “Jim Jordan Shouldn’t Throw in the Towel.” As of Thursday morning, however, Jordan and his allies called a break in the fight over who will permanently replace former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy until the Ohio Republican eventually came back to his senses.

Instead, more establishment House Republicans laid plans to empower Rep. Patrick McHenry, McCarthy’s hand-picked speaker pro tem, until January 2024. The resolution to empower McHenry, written by Rep. David Joyce of Ohio, notably a hesitant Jordan supporter and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, would have conveniently empowered McHenry to act through the holidays. That timeline raised eyebrows among conservatives in Washington because it seriously raises the prospect of yet another Christmas omnibus.

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Meanwhile, Democrats seemed to be sensing victory. Previously, House Democrats signaled they would be willing to support the resolution to empower McHenry. Yet again, the Republican House was heading straight for another vote where Democrats would have been more supportive of a maneuver from GOP leadership than the Republican conference. Furthermore, House Democrats were reportedly assuring McHenry that they would protect him from a motion to vacate. But Democrats have purportedly made this promise before to McCarthy; hence Rep. Nancy Pelosi had been allowed to keep her office in the Capitol until House Democrats did not save McCarthy from getting ousted and McHenry immediately ordered Pelosi and her team to vacate the space. At the time, McHenry justified the maneuver saying that office is typically given to the former speaker. 

What was Jordan going to get in exchange? He would have maintained the title of speaker designee and would not have had to officially drop out from the race. Supposedly, Jordan would have a clear path to become speaker in January. But a whole lot can change in Washington over the course of six weeks, and there was no guarantee that Jordan’s title of speaker designee would matter all too much come January. Nevertheless, Joyce insisted that empowering McHenry "buys [Jordan] more time to do what he needs to do in private.” Few conservatives bought it; it was more likely that Jordan’s chances would be worse in January than they were early Thursday morning.

An empowered McHenry would be a disaster for conservatives in times of normal order, but even more disastrous in our current crises. McHenry, infamous among House conservatives for the way he and McCarthy handled the debt ceiling negotiations earlier this year, would have overseen negotiations with Democrats on appropriations bills, or, more likely, given the incompetence of Republican appropriators and a divided government with weakened House leadership, another continuing resolution and Christmas omnibus. He would have also overseen the passage of bills to provide military aid to Israel and Ukraine, and could have potentially moved on these packages without doing much at all to fix the nation’s wide-open southern border.

Which is why conservative Republicans came out in force against the establishment’s plan to empower McHenry on Thursday. While the House was considering the resolution, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado told The American Conservative that “the American people demanded Jim Jordan as speaker, and it’s enraging that their voices were disregarded. Settling for a temporary speaker until January is not what the American people want.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida said he was willing to do “everything” to block the resolution, according to POLITICO. Those seeking to empower the speaker pro temp, Gaetz continued, are “twisting and torturing the constitution to empower a temporary speaker.”

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Like Gaetz, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas believes empowering McHenry might be unconstitutional. “If the @HouseGOP dares cut a deal with Dems to empower a Speaker-Pro-Tem in violation of tradition & norms, & possibly the Constitution to likely pass another CR at Pelosi levels & more supplemental (not paid for) spending—including Ukraine… the GOP might as well be the Whigs,” Roy tweeted.

Roy continued in another tweet: “We’ve never empowered a Speaker-pro-tem with full powers w/o having chosen a duly elected Speaker & for @HouseGOP to join w/ Dems to do so now not only raises constitutional concerns, but represents an unforgivable step to coalition government & likely decimation in 2024.”

“Breaking with centuries of tradition by creating a non-Speaker speakership is a disastrous ‘solution’ for a handful of establishment Republicans who are huffy about voting for Jim Jordan for reasons they are unable to articulate,” Senator Mike Lee of Utah told TAC while the House was considering the move toward McHenry. “Sour grapes are no excuse to damage the House in such a way.”

Thankfully, Jordan and other House Republicans woke up to this reality over the course of a four-hour conference meeting on Thursday. “You do not want to take an individual that was appointed to a position and then grant them additional, excessive, special powers to conduct the affairs of Congress,” Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana told TAC in a phone interview. “This would have been a very dangerous precedent.” Inside the meeting, “there were a lot of people that spoke much more eloquently than myself who have legal backgrounds that said that is not the way our government is supposed to function.”

"Those powers for [McHenry] are very limited in the Constitution, as the speaker pro tem, and we need to focus on the one job he has and the primary job we have right now, which is to elect the speaker,” Rep. Bob Good of Virginia told TAC in a phone interview. “We don’t need to improperly relieve that pressure or that consequence for not having made that decision yet.”

“Thankfully, the resolution was was rejected by the conference this afternoon and we're not going to have that brought to the floor,” Good continued. “Thankfully, there was reluctance from the conference to pass something like that with Democrat votes, which would only be because we were putting in place a speaker that was appealing or attractive to Democrats, which would be not a very good thing, or we were buying Democrat votes with concessions. The consensus was if that was ever to be brought to the floor and voted on, it was very clear that a significant portion of the conference would not support it in any fashion.”

“Look back to January,” Rosendale implored. “When we had the big speakers of race, a lot of that was not just about who was going to be speaker, but it was about the rules that we were proposing to have changed. We had seen such a consolidation of power into the speaker’s office, and the Rules Committee over the last 15 to 18 years that the individual members had diminished their voice.”

Granting the proposed powers to the temporary speaker, Rosendale said, would be ceding individual members’ power and concentrating it in leadership all over again. “You just cannot grant these excessive exceptional powers to an individual, and certainly one that was not elected,” he argued.

“In January, we were voting against the establishment, the status quo, the continuation of the failures of Republican leadership from the past, which unfortunately I believe was validated over the previous month, and resulted in the speaker being removed,” Good told TAC. “We were very open and very clear about our opposition to Kevin McCarthy as speaker, and people understood, even if they didn’t agree, the reasons why. We were also receiving a tremendous amount of encouragement and support from the grassroots from our districts who did not want Kevin McCarthy speaker. It is the complete opposite now.”

“In all fairness,” Rosendale continued, “Patrick McHenry stated from the very beginning that he did not want any powers, did not think that he had been granted any powers, and that his only task was to keep things in order until such time a new speaker was elected.”

TAC asked Good if he agreed with Rosendale’s assessment: “I do think Patrick McHenry has done a good job of restricting himself or confining himself to those limited powers. I think he’s been fair, he's been objective, and I think he's been effective in that he has been deferential to the speaker designee, previously Steve Scalise now Jim Jordan, in letting them sort of control the the schedule on voting and not voting and that sort of thing.”

McHenry, according to Rosendale, “maintained that very stance today and said that he was opposed to this resolution.” As were other crucial members of Republican leadership, Majority Leader Steve Scalise and GOP Whip Tom Emmer. “As I have made very clear over the last few days, we should never allow a Democrat-backed coalition government. Ever. The only coalition we should be looking to build is a Republican coalition uniting all of our conference,” Emmer reportedly claimed after Thursday’s conference meeting. McCarthy and Jordan, however, initially spoke favorably on the resolution.

“When I spoke to the conference today,” Rosendale told TAC, “I said, look, there were six of us that were opposed to Kevin, and we knew that we were never going to vote for Kevin. That's why we did not in round one, not in round five, not in round 10, not round 15. But what I saw was the loss of decorum on the House floor and the devolving of the institution to the place where physical conflict was getting ready to start taking place.”

“That’s when the six of us huddled together and said, in the best interests of the conference and of the country, we’re going to vote present and allow Kevin to go ahead and become the speaker without compromising our integrity and voting for him,” Rosendale continued. “I said I think it’s time for the 20 people that are opposing Jim to have honest conversations with him and figure out what we can do to move the conference forward. We've got 200 People that have voted for Jim, and we know that he is absolutely the best person to be the spokesman for the Republican Party coming out of the House of Representatives.”

Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida emerged from the Thursday meeting and declared, “The resolution is dead.”

Jordan now has to meet with his detractors, and try to bring them on side—an issue that has been complicated by rogue, freak actors levying death threats against GOP holdouts. Good told TAC that the objectors “have made no case for their opposition to him and have not publicly stated why they oppose Jim Jordan. I would submit they have no case to make and nothing they can sell. I’m quite confident they’re receiving tremendous pressure from their constituents to support Jim Jordan. He is, I believe, the second most popular Republican in the country. And I think for once we should listen to the grassroots, our constituents, our voters, the Republican base who overwhelmingly wants Jim Jordan.”

TAC asked Rosendale how he might be able to win those votes. “I’m not 100 percent sure,” Rosendale admitted. “What he’s been trying to do, which I respect tremendously, is to have conversations and come to an agreement with them without arm twisting and utilizing the the D.C. cartel, which typically whips hard to try and gain votes. Jim is trying to earn those votes, and I think that that is incredibly honorable.”

Tragically, Jordan’s fate still lies in the hands of a hodgepodge of appropriators, hawks, and liberal Republicans, which TAC has previously reported on. Good agreed with TAC’s previous accounting, saying, “the makeup of the 20 or so resistors are predominantly either appropriators—and appropriators like to appropriate money and spend money, and perhaps they’re concerned that Jim Jordan may want to help us rein in our spending as we’ve told our voters we would—those who are hyper defense focused and may be concerned about any accountability for how the taxpayer dollars are spent in the area of defense, and then you've got some folks in some Biden leaning districts that have expressed some concern about voting for a conservative speaker.”

It’s hardly likely that temporarily backing down will do anything to help the Ohio Congressman’s case, and the threat of empowering a temporary speaker might not yet be over, given Joyce says he is reworking the resolution’s language. Nevertheless, Good told TAC that “Jim Jordan absolutely represents a rejection of the status quo, the establishment, the elites in the donor class, the special interests, and the lobbyists trying to select our speaker, and he is a speaker that is supported by the people.”

Many of Jordan’s objectors have something else in common, too, as Rep. Kevin Hern pointed out: “It’s more the senior members.” Oh, goodie. Just another cadre of intransigent Boomers who’ve presided over the destruction of the American way while claiming the mantle of decency and principle. 

With friends like these, who needs enemies?