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House GOP again rejects raising bar for speaker candidate

Republicans will hear from speaker candidates Friday afternoon

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, arrives at a House Republican Conference meeting in the Longworth office building on Friday.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, arrives at a House Republican Conference meeting in the Longworth office building on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Republicans huddled Friday morning to consider internal rules changes that would require the conference to unite behind a speaker candidate before going to the floor, including a proposal that would strip committee assignments from members who reverse themselves on the floor and vote “no.”

But the conference rejected two proposals, and two others weren’t even offered, according to sources familiar with the debate. That’s a sign that the typical secret procedure — voting for a candidate by secret ballot, with a simple majority required to become the nominee — was likely to play out again, despite no candidate currently breaking through.

Republicans took a break from their conference meeting after about 90 minutes and will reconvene at 1 p.m. to hear from any declared candidates, including, presumably, Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Jordan narrowly lost to House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., in Wednesday’s internal conference election, but Scalise ended his bid Thursday night after it became clear that he didn’t have enough backing to win a majority of the full House on the floor.

Lawmakers leaving Friday morning’s meeting said they weren’t aware of any declared candidates other than possibly Jordan, who hasn’t officially thrown his hat in the ring again but is widely expected to do so. Republican Study Committee Chairman Kevin Hern, R-Okla., who once considered his own bid for speaker, said he’s backing Jordan now but that it’s possible other candidates will emerge.

During the meeting, the conference tabled, by voice vote, a new version of a proposal from Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, that would set the threshold for nominating a speaker at 217 “floor-eligible” votes, meaning House members who can vote on the floor. It would not count, for example, the three delegates from U.S. territories who backed Scalise during his initial 113-99 win over Jordan on Wednesday.

The reworked Roy amendment to GOP conference rules would have required that any candidate who receives a simple majority by secret ballot under the current rules would have to go through a subsequent secret ballot on committing to back the nominee on the House floor.

If the candidate got fewer than 217 votes on that second secret ballot, a question-and-answer period would begin. After that, members would cast their votes individually by roll call on that same question of committing to vote for the candidate on the floor. At that point, if the candidate were still not successful, there would be an option to go into recess for up to an hour and then vote again.

If no candidate got the requisite votes after that process, it would restart.

A separate amendment to conference rules from Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., was withdrawn. It would have also kicked off the process under the current rules. However, if the winner didn’t receive at least 217 eligible votes on the secret ballot, under Huizenga’s proposal, the conference would have to vote individually by roll call until someone wins that number of votes.

If the candidate received at least 217 GOP votes in conference by roll call on the question of committing to support that nominee on the floor, Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., would be free to schedule the formal election on the floor.

Huizenga’s amendment would have come with a major new penalty, however: Any member who voted “no” on the conference’s candidate on the floor after committing to vote “yes” in conference would automatically forfeit all their committee assignments. The GOP steering committee would be authorized, but not required, to consider reinstating those assignments after at least 30 days and no later than 90 days after the vote.

Another amendment, from Rep. William R. Timmons IV, R-S.C., would have made a simple change to require members to vote individually by roll call on committing to support the candidate who received a simple majority by secret ballot. If the candidate didn’t receive 218 votes, there would be a question-and-answer period and then another roll call vote. If at that point the candidate still didn’t get 218 votes, the process would restart.

Timmons withdrew his amendment, however.

The conference also tabled, by voice vote, an amendment to the rules offered by Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., that would have raised the threshold to nominate a speaker from a simple majority by secret ballot to 80 percent of the conference.

The closed-door GOP conference rules discussion was designed to set a higher bar for the eventual speaker candidate after Scalise was forced to drop out of the race despite his victory in the party’s internal election Wednesday. Although the initial Roy proposal was previously tabled by a vote of 135-88, two days of recriminations, bad blood and serious questions about whether any candidate can become speaker was thought to have changed some minds.

Jordan is widely expected to revive his bid for speaker. His grassroots support could push members who fear a primary challenge to move into this camp. But more than enough Republicans have said they would not vote for Jordan to put his path to 217 votes in serious trouble.

Jordan didn’t speak much on his way into the conference meeting Friday morning, other than to say, “I think we’re good.”

Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.