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New York Republicans prepare to flex muscles in speaker race

Empire State freshman class helped propel House GOP to majority

New York Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito prepares for a TV news interview in the Capitol on Wednesday.
New York Republican Rep. Anthony D’Esposito prepares for a TV news interview in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Members of New York’s sizable GOP freshman class have a message for the next speaker: The party needs to prove it can govern and control members willing to go rogue, in part to hang on to a narrow majority.

Staring down some of the toughest reelection battles in the House, several of the New Yorkers said in interviews that their votes hinge on a speaker candidate making clear they understand the needs of their more moderate, hard-won districts that backed President Joe Biden in 2020. Some are also seeking rules changes and confirmation that Kevin McCarthy’s ousting this week won’t go unpunished.

New York sent the largest group of new GOP House members to Washington in the 2022 midterms, and only one of those seven Republicans had as of press time publicly endorsed a candidate to be the House’s next leader.

Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, the current majority leader, and Ohio’s Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Committee chairman, have formally declared they’re running, while Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern of Oklahoma is feeling out a potential bid.

The freshmen and other New York colleagues could make their decision as a group — though likely sans George Santos who they’ve largely shunned as he faces fraud and money laundering charges; Santos endorsed Jordan on Friday. Still, the state’s other GOP members working in sync would grant them enough power in the narrow Republican majority to deny a candidate the gavel if they chose.

‘Keep our powder dry’

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a Long Island Republican who flipped his seat in 2022, is hoping to wield that influence and pointed to the fact that New York Republicans — and his fellow freshmen in particular — face difficult reelection bids. He said the New Yorkers understand why voters sent them to Washington after years of electing Democrats and what they need to do to retain those voters’ trust.

“That’s why we’re going to keep our powder dry,” he said. “We’re hoping to make decisions as … a unified front, a cohesive group. And I think that that sends a clear message to whoever the next speaker is that New York matters, that New York is important, that these seats matter and most importantly the people who live here matter.”

D’Esposito’s district voted for Biden by 15 percentage points in 2020, and he’s considered among the most vulnerable set of House members next year. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates his seat a Toss-up.

The speaker job is open after Florida Republican Matt Gaetz offered a motion to vacate that found support from seven fellow Republicans and all Democrats. To get some holdouts on board with his speakership during a prolonged push to win the gavel in January, Kevin McCarthy made a rule change to allow just one member to call up the vote to remove him.

Now it’s a priority for New Yorkers and moderates throughout the conference that McCarthy’s fate never repeats itself. Part of that is increasing the number of members who must sign on to raise a motion to vacate on the House floor.

Four New Yorkers — D’Esposito and Reps. Nick LaLota, Mike Lawler and Andrew Garbarino, a sophomore — were among the 45 Republicans who signed a letter blasting the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy, vowing to change the conference rules to ensure it won’t happen again.

“The injustice we all witnessed cannot go unaddressed — lest we bear responsibility for the consequences that follow,” the letter says. “Our Conference must address fundamental changes to the structure of our majority to ensure success for the American people.”

Lawler described raising the motion to vacate threshold as a condition of his support for a candidate because “no speaker should ever have a proverbial gun to their head.” Upstate New Yorker Marc Molinaro said Republicans must revisit the rule.

Both also named additional steps they want to see to make sure the Republican conference is able to avoid the holdups that have become endemic this year thanks to small factions of the party — from McCarthy’s removal to defeated votes for adopting rules, which typically sail through along party lines.

Molinaro said leaders should stop allowing measures to go to the floor when they circumvented the legislative process from committee consideration through the Rules panel. He said the next speaker shouldn’t grant individual members last-minute amendments to get their votes, citing as an example if a member wants to slash the pay of a particular federal official.

“I’m encouraging that we focus on the important role of governing and that we get a structure in place to revisit the rules changes so that we can function,” he said.

Lawler said another condition of his support for a speaker candidate is someone willing to discuss accountability for the eight Republicans who voted to oust McCarthy. While he said a decision is up to the conference in the end, he won’t back a candidate who isn’t open to the conversation.

Those efforts are in service of a goal the New Yorkers all cited: getting back to the work of governing and showing Americans that the GOP House will deliver results and not chaos moving forward. They’re not shying away from the political reality of making that case.

“If we want to hold a majority, we need to focus on how we win these tough districts,” Lawler said. “The American people expect us to govern, they expect us to pass legislation that impacts them — whether it’s issues of affordability or public safety or the migrant crisis at our southern border and so on.”

Political infrastructure

He also pointed to the need for a speaker with the political infrastructure to hold the majority, a nod to the typical support that a party leader gives to vulnerable members in campaign season. That could be a mark in Scalise’s favor after years in leadership.

In New York City’s northern suburbs, Lawler knocked off Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney by just 1,820 votes in 2022. Inside Elections rates his seat as a Toss-up. Santos and Brandon Williams, who represents the Syracuse area, are also in Toss-up seats.

Molinaro’s seat is rated Tilt Republican, while LaLota’s is rated Lean Republican.

In the 2020 election, Biden carried all six of their districts. The seventh New York Republican newcomer, Nick Langworthy, is in a seat considered safely red.

D’Esposito said he needs a speaker to recognize that New Yorkers’ concerns and needs are different from those in other parts of the country. One issue where New Yorkers and other blue-state Republicans diverge from their GOP colleagues is the state and local tax deduction.

Republicans created the $10,000 “SALT” cap in their 2017 tax law, but the party is now in a standoff over the issue. Many red-state conservatives oppose any changes to the deduction limit that mainly hits blue states where taxes are higher, but New Yorkers and fellow blue-state representatives are pressing for more deductions. The situation has contributed to stalled action on a Republican tax package that doesn’t address SALT — to New Yorkers’ chagrin.

D’Esposito said SALT has come up in discussions about the speaker’s race, as they have all year.

Lawler said a speaker candidate must be able to tell Republicans how they’ll move legislation forward including measures to grant more SALT deductions. He added that some of the GOP conference bending legislation to their will, “two can play that game.”

“There’s got to be compromise and if some folks aren’t willing to do that — as has been evident throughout the course of the year — then it makes it very difficult to work as a conference,” Lawler said. “So it’s a question I think that needs to be answered in this discussion.”

Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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