House Republicans shelved a proposal to install Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry in a more official role possibly through December just hours after the speaker-designate, Rep. Jim Jordan, gave it his blessing on Thursday.
Facing an increasingly imperiled bid to become speaker due to lack of support within the conference, Jordan had told House Republicans on Thursday morning that he would instead support expanding McHenry’s authority to get the chamber functioning again temporarily.
But GOP lawmakers leaving an hourslong meeting Thursday afternoon said there was little support for empowering McHenry either, even if just for a few months.
“We made the pitch to members on the resolution as a way to lower the temperature and get back to work. We decided that wasn’t where we’re going to go,” Jordan, R-Ohio, said. “I’m still running for speaker, and I plan to go to the floor and get the votes and win this race.”
That sentiment was echoed by multiple Republicans leaving the meeting. However, some backers of an expanded speaker pro tem role for McHenry, R-N.C., particularly those who see no path for Jordan to win, continued to push for taking up a resolution to grant him that power.
“I don’t know if it is [dead] or not. I can’t tell,” Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said. “I think they are just debating about the need and the length, but there’s no resolution at this point.”
Some members said they expected another vote on Jordan for speaker would take place later Thursday, the third one this week. Jordan lost 20 Republicans on Tuesday and 22 on Wednesday. Earlier Thursday, Bacon predicted Jordan could lose 10 more if they voted again.
Jordan said he would have some conversations with holdouts before another vote.
“I want to want to talk to a few of my colleagues. Particularly, I want to talk to the 20 individuals who voted against me so that we can move forward and begin to work for the American people,” Jordan said.
But the GOP conference had, for the most part, clearly soured on the idea of a McHenry empowerment resolution. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said no Republican planned to bring it up for a vote, although by its “privileged” nature any member of the House could do so, including a Democrat, Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., pointed out.
Florida Republican Kat Cammack summed up the view within the Republican conference on a McHenry resolution.
“The resolution right now is nowhere near having the majority support that it would need to get on the floor, and certainly it would open up Pandora’s box if it were to be passed with Democrat support,” Cammack said. “So I think that that’s a place that people in the conference don’t want to get to.”
‘We have an impasse’
Reps. David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., have both been working on resolutions that would grant McHenry the power to bring bills to the floor, not just facilitate the holding of a new election for speaker.
Kelly’s resolution would run through Nov. 17, while Joyce’s would go until Jan. 3, according to a source familiar with his measure, which hasn’t yet been filed.
Rep. Mike Flood, R-Neb., said he was working on an alternative plan to empower McHenry through Nov. 30, which he said would be enough to get through the Nov. 17 stopgap funding deadline and Thanksgiving while keeping the pressure on to elect a speaker formally.
Bacon said he favored the plan to go through Jan. 3, and a source familiar with the discussions said that’s what Jordan had agreed to support.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., another Jordan opponent, said he hadn’t seen specifics but called the general idea “very, very interesting.”
“Generally speaking, I think it’s important to … get back on track,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that we have an impasse right now.”
Some Jordan supporters, like Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, said they’d support empowering McHenry if Jordan did.
Some Republicans are staunchly against the idea of giving McHenry expanded powers, mainly members who back Jordan and believe a vote for McHenry, who helped broker the debt ceiling suspension deal this spring and higher spending caps, is a vote for the “status quo” and a de facto governing coalition with the Democrats.
“It’s a giant mistake,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. “To give the Democrats control of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives the voters gave us to fight back against the Democrat agenda is the worst thing that could ever happen.”
Banks, who is running for Senate, said there are other Republicans the conference can turn to if Jordan doesn’t have the votes, as McHenry “doesn’t represent … what the majority of the body is looking for in a speaker.”
Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, estimated that two-thirds of the conference is against the proposal.
“What has this party done? It has enabled the Democrats to determine the way forward in part because if all 212 Democrats vote for this resolution, it will pass; if all of them oppose it, it will fail,” Fallon said. “So we’re in the majority and we don’t have a say as to what happens with this resolution. It’s completely up to the Democrats.”
One concern raised at the meeting, according to Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., was competing agendas and mixed messages about who was actually leading the party’s agenda. There would be the elevated speaker pro tem, McHenry; a speaker-designate, Jordan; a speaker emeritus in Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., whose ouster led to the current impasse; and the GOP conference chair, Elise Stefanik of New York.
“We are in completely uncharted constitutional territory as a country in the middle of a Middle East war,” Waltz said, arguing that the eight Republicans who voted to depose McCarthy were responsible. “Where I come from as a veteran, if you’re gonna blow a bridge, you’d better have another one to cross, and those eight clearly didn’t have another one to cross when they blew this bridge.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who led the eight Republicans in the “motion to vacate” that ousted McCarthy, said the latter yelled at him in Thursday’s meeting when Gaetz tried to address the room.
Gaetz said he opposes the resolution to empower McHenry, and he defended his actions to date.
“We’re shaking up Washington, D.C. We’re breaking the fever,” Gaetz told reporters after the GOP meeting Thursday. “And you know what, it’s messy. But the only reason people think there’s chaos in this town right now, it’s because the special interests aren’t in control anymore.”
Another practical concern with the McHenry resolution, Cammack said, is that a formal speaker pro tem could also be subject to a motion to vacate, putting the conference, and the chamber, right back in the same position.
Democrats weigh options
It was also unclear if Democrats would back the effort to empower McHenry without receiving concessions from Republicans.
Jeffries said Wednesday that Democrats would have to reconvene “if there’s a real proposal in front of us” to discuss their position on elevating McHenry.
But any member could conceivably offer such a motion on the floor, meaning a coalition could potentially build across the aisle even without the express blessing of leadership.
House Democrats generally have stayed united behind House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., this year. And that didn’t seem about to change after House Democrats met for their own closed-door meeting Thursday.
Some Democrats appeared open to supporting the McHenry resolution, though they were waiting for guidance from leadership.
“I’m not voting for McHenry. … Democrats don’t vote for Republican speakers and Republicans don’t vote for Democratic speakers,” said Florida Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz. “But he’s there, giving him powers so that the House can do the people’s business, to help the American people, to help our ally Israel. That’s what I’m supporting.”
Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., said the message from leadership was to “wait and see” what’s the Republican party’s plan to move forward.
“It’s possible, but it also might not be possible,” Beyer said. “I think we’re very concerned about what an extended temporary speaker means in terms of managing the House — how empowered would Jim Jordan be, for example.”
One Democratic lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some Democrats during the meeting brought up that they wanted Republicans to agree to write appropriations bills at the levels laid out in the debt limit agreement and to provide aid to Israel and Ukraine.
Beyer said Democrats would want a speaker who did not vote against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. McHenry voted to certify the results.
For his part, McHenry said going into the Thursday GOP meeting only that his intention is to elect Jordan as speaker.
Alternatively, a different candidate could emerge, even if only in a temporary caretaker role. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., has been gauging support for a speaker bid that would run only through the remainder of the 118th Congress, The Detroit News reported. Bergman wouldn’t comment on his way into the meeting Thursday morning.
McCarthy, meanwhile, had a different take from many of his colleagues on the situation. The former speaker, who drew up the initial list of interim replacements if the position were vacant, suggested that McHenry already has the ability to bring legislation to the floor, even without a formal resolution adopted.
“When I put McHenry’s name down, it was my belief that if I — if something happened to me, that McHenry could run the floor until we elected a new speaker. It was not my intention, and I put a name down, that they couldn’t do anything,” McCarthy said. “I always believed the names I was putting on the list could carry out to keep government running until you elect a new speaker.”
If Jordan continues to lose votes, and no resolution to elect McHenry as a form of special interim speaker is adopted, the House may soon be forced to put McCarthy’s interpretation to the test.
Mary Ellen McIntire, Avery Roe, Nina Heller, Paul M. Krawzak, Michael Macagnone and Briana Reilly contributed to this report.