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A mess, or how preventing one shutdown caused the House to shut down


Preventing a shutdown caused a shutdown.

A shutdown of the House of Representatives.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., advanced a plan to prevent a government shut down late last month. McCarthy’s gambit cost him his job. It also plunged the House into an unprecedented period of parliamentary sclerosis.

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO WHY SCALISE’S SPEAKER MATH MAY NEVER WORK AND THE PUSH TO RESURRECT MCCARTHY

The House has now lacked a Speaker for nine days. And it doesn’t look like the House can fix this any time soon, not after the news that broke late Thursday.

House Majority Leader and now Speaker Designate Steve Scalise, R-La., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, squared off in a closed door, secret ballot contest among House Republicans Wednesday. The winner would become the GOP’s nominee for Speaker on the House floor.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., is not exactly a soothsayer. But when Scalise and Jordan presented their arguments for Speaker to House Republicans Tuesday night, Buck was skeptical anyone would wrap this up quickly.

“I’m not thrilled with either candidate. And I don’t know that they’re the only candidates who are going to arise,” said Buck. “I think that we will have other candidates that step forward if this becomes a mess tomorrow.”

Yours truly asked Buck why he thought the ballot would devolve into “a mess.”

“Oh, Chad,” responded Buck with a heavy sigh. “I have a sense that it will not be a clean vote.”

I pressed Buck further on what signal reporters should look for if the Speaker’s election officially crossed into “mess” territory.

Ken Buck asks questions while Attorney General Bill Barr testifies to the House Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON, DC – JULY 28: Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) questions U.S. Attorney General William Barr during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on July 28, 2020, in Washington, DC. In his first congressional testimony in more than a year, Barr faced questions from the committee about his deployment of federal law enforcement agents to Portland, Oregon, and other cities in response to Black Lives Matter protests; his role in using federal agents to violently clear protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House last month before a photo opportunity for President Donald Trump in front of a church; his intervention in court cases involving Trump’s allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; and other issues.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“I think if at 3 or 4 in the afternoon if you don’t see white smoke, we’ve got a mess,” said Buck.

By 1:15 pm et Wednesday there was “white smoke” from room 1100 of the Longworth House Office Building. The GOP conference voted in favor of Scalise over Jordan. But it was far from clear that Scalise had anywhere close to the votes to win on the floor and become Speaker. And by late afternoon – as Buck forecast – Republicans had “a mess.”

Republicans voted. But the lawmaker they tapped couldn’t become Speaker – yet.

“Leader Scalise won and it’s not over,” said Rep. Max Miller, R-Ohio, an acolyte of his fellow Buckeye. “I’m still throwing my support behind Jim Jordan for speaker. I’m not going to change my vote now or any time soon on the House floor.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said she would continue to back Jordan. That’s because Scalise is suffering from cancer.

“(Being) the Speaker of the House is the hardest job in Congress,” said Greene. “I want to see (Scalise) be able to put all of his time and energy into defeating cancer.”

Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., voted present in the GOP conference.

“I think it’s unhealthy for us not to have a debate in the conference until we get to consensus. I don’t think it should be on the floor,” said Spartz.

THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO HOW THE HOUSE DEADLOCK OVER A SPEAKER STANDS

When asked who she would support on the floor, Spartz replied “I’m not going to tell you because I don’t know yet.”

The vision of Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., was clearer than that of Spartz.

“I’m ready to vote for (Rep.) Chip Roy, R-Tex., as Speaker, y’all,” said Boebert. “I’m ready for somebody who’s gonna throw down.”

It was thought Scalise may try to go to the floor to win the Speakership immediately on Wednesday afternoon. Kind of like in football. Your team made a big play and your opponent is about to toss the challenge flag. So you snap the ball quickly before they contest the play. The only problem with Scalise is that he would have lost – badly – on the floor. A failed Speaker vote is precisely what rank-and-file Republicans hoped to avoid after the 15 round marathon to elect McCarthy in January. Moreover, a feeble vote tally by Scalise on the floor could euthanize his chances to become Speaker.

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., endorsed forcing the issue.

“We need to go to the floor,” said Womack, adding that a roll call vote would help everyone know where Scalise or other candidates stood.

“Until you know, you don’t know,” said Womack.

But what about the prospect of a series of failed Speaker votes, ala McCarthy last winter?

Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan

Two Republicans – Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Steve Scalise of Louisiana – both launched bids for House speaker on Wednesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“It didn’t really bother us in January,” said Womack.

The delta between the support for Scalise and what he needed to succeed on the floor shocked Capitol Hill veterans.

“This is bad,” said one senior House Republican leadership source. “I didn’t think it would get this bad.”

Scalise and Jordan met after the internal GOP election. The Ohio Republican then pledged his support to Scalise. But Jordan’s endorsement lacked juice. Many Republicans aligned with Jordan remained pledged to Jordan.

This infuriated those who were loyal to Scalise.

“The question is why we even have elections,” grumbled Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. “We had an election. There was a winner. And now we should all coalesce around that winner. And if we can’t do that for the person who got the highest number of votes, we sure as heck are not able to do that for someone who got less.”

Still, Scalise’s deficit remained steep.

“He may never get there,” sighed one source of Scalise’s steep climb to the Speakership. 

Scalise speaks to media in Washington, DC

U.S. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaks to reporters following a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 27, 2023 in Washington, D.C.  (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

There’s no plan to hold a vote for Speaker on the floor. A failed vote has the potential to roil global financial markets. And, any failed vote only underscores Republican dysfunction, mirroring the January exercise with McCarthy.

“I don’t think he’s going to get it,” said one senior House Republican member to Fox about Scalise. “He came in so low.”

“We don’t have a Paul Ryan,” said one senior House Republican.

That’s a reference to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. Ryan salvaged Republicans after former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio resigned unexpectedly in 2015 and McCarthy failed to round up the votes for Speaker.

Let’s consider the Scalise math inside the House Republican Conference. He commanded only 113 ballots in the GOP Conference Wednesday. It was thought he may be north of 150. Had Scalise scored 112, the vote would have gone to a second ballot.

But examine where Scalise’s support came from. He secured the votes of the three non-voting delegates to Congress from American territories who are part of the Republican Conference but cannot vote for Speaker on the floor. Dels. Amata Radewagen, R-American Samoa, James Moylan, R-Guam and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez, R-Puerto Rico, all backed Scalise.

That trio boosted Scalise from 110 votes to 113. The support of the three delegates infuriated some House Republicans. Those members are eligible to vote in the conference. But they lack a floor vote because they are not full Members.

So where does this stand after Scalise dropped out late Thursday?

Fox is told the House may be in a stasis for days. Moreover, Fox is told there is no way to “undo” the Speaker vote in conference for Scalise.

“He’s the Speaker-designee,” said one knowledgeable source. “He’s there until he decides he’s not.”

So what to do?

One would be hard-pressed to say the House has never found itself in such a twisted position.

Some Republicans began wondering if they could resurrect McCarthy. Others began pondering an effort to grant temporary powers to Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

McHenry took the dais shortly after the House removed McCarthy from the Speakership last week. He hammered down the gavel with such anger that the head nearly spiraled off into the well of the chamber.

So far, McHenry’s aggressive slamming of the gavel has been his most significant act yet.

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McHenry may get more opportunities if Republicans fail to elect a Speaker soon.

Otherwise, the House remains a mess.



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