A group of House Republicans supporting a controversial proposal that would expand the power of a temporary speaker saw their hopes of reopening the chamber almost immediately dissipate Thursday as the conference struggles to coalesce around a permanent choice for speaker of the House.
The crippling dysfunction of the Republican conference has kept the House without a speaker for nearly three weeks, an unprecedented stretch of time ahead of must-pass deadlines to fund the government and other expiring priorities before the end of the year. Bitter divisions — both personal and political in nature — have played out in public and in heated conference meetings since a faction of hard-right Republicans ousted Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as House speaker earlier this month.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the conference’s current speaker-designate, has lost two votes on the House floor in his effort to clinch the gavel. On Thursday, he agreed to support a resolution that would have empowered Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) to temporarily perform the functions of speaker until Jan. 3, 2024. Doing so would have allowed Jordan to remain the conference’s nominee for speaker, try to corral support back into his corner and call up a vote for his speaker candidacy once he had the necessary 217 Republican votes.
But after a significant number of his far-right colleagues balked at the idea in a tense, hours-long meeting, Jordan reversed course from earlier in the day. He abandoned his support for empowering McHenry and announced he would hold a third vote Friday on his candidacy for speaker.
The search for the next House speaker
End of carousel
“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 said. “I’m still running for speaker, and I plan to go to the floor and get the votes and win this race. But I want to go talk with a few of my colleagues.”
That support is unlikely to come. Several Republicans had already planned on voting against Jordan in a third round, with many of his own supporters admitting Jordan will never get the 217 votes needed to become speaker of the House.
“I think he’d be the most effective speaker we have, but he can’t get there. That’s the fact,” said Rep. Troy E. Nehls (R-Tex.), a Jordan supporter. Still, Nehls doesn’t support empowering McHenry and wants Republicans to “stay here until we get it done.”
Later Thursday, Jordan, McCarthy, McHenry and Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a key ally, met with 12 of the holdouts in what became an airing of grievances, according to two people familiar with the meeting who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting. No one’s mind was changed into supporting Jordan, and Jordan did not react when members pressed it would be best if he stepped aside.
The push to empower a temporary speaker appeared to be the first potential pathway to ensuring the House could legislate as the party works to overcome its issues. The backup plan had gained steam after Jordan decided Thursday morning to call off another round of balloting as his opposition grew.
He announced his decision to the Republican conference Thursday morning in a closed meeting, but the proposal was quickly rejected. Some Republicans wanted to put the resolution up for a vote on the House floor only if a majority of them approved it in conference. Another group wanted Jordan to drop out before getting behind the resolution.
Several Republicans asked Jordan whether he would step down, a question he skirted. Others wanted the eight members who voted to oust McCarthy to apologize and renominate him as speaker.
Rep. Nathaniel Moran (R-Tex.) stood up and reminded Jordan that during the candidate forum last week with Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), both candidates had pledged to remove themselves from the speaker race if they could not clinch the necessary 217 GOP votes, according to two people familiar with the interaction.
McCarthy endorsed the resolution to empower McHenry, his close friend who he tapped as Speaker Pro Tempore using a post-9/11 rule to ensure the continuity of government. But he was pressed by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.) about whether Jordan should be a statesman like him and Scalise, two Republican leaders who stepped aside when they realized they did not have enough support to continue running for speaker.
McCarthy did not say whether Jordan should step down and allow the speakership election to begin again. He said he thinks it’s good to step aside, but he also noted that it took him 15 rounds to win the speaker’s gavel.
However, Republican lawmakers have pointed out a key difference between McCarthy and Jordan’s candidacies for speaker: McCarthy’s tally continued to improve throughout the rounds of voting, and he had strong relationships as he has raised millions of dollars for many members’ victories. Jordan’s tally probably will continue to get worse, and he has few alliances outside his far-right coalition.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who orchestrated McCarthy’s ouster, spoke up against the resolution and suggested that Jordan holdouts should as well because it would give lawmakers time to whip opponents of Jordan into shape, according to several people in the room. The threat did not land well with lawmakers, particularly those who have received death threats since voting against Jordan.
A shouting match broke out between Gaetz and McCarthy, according to people in the room.
“I actually think it was a really productive discussion,” Gaetz said after the meeting. “People got to get their viewpoint out. And what I’m really happy about is that this did not end with a desire to have speaker lite or a ratified speaker pro tem.”
After almost four hours behind closed doors, Jordan declared that Republicans would not vote on the resolution and the House would vote for a third time on his candidacy for speaker.
In his current role, McHenry only has the power to oversee speakership elections. But there is bipartisan desire to provide aid and other support to Israel in its war with Hamas, as well as address government funding which runs out in mid-November.
“We need to, frankly, get our s–t together to fight those issues,” Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) said.
By supporting the resolution, Jordan and his allies would be given the time to continue building support for his speakership bid. But the 55 Republicans who voted against him in a closed-door meeting last week have coordinated their opposition and planned to slowly flip their “yes” votes to “nos” the more ballots he pursues.
“What they’re doing right now is walking the Republicans off the plank,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who is running for Senate and supports Jordan. “We don’t deserve the majority. We go along with the plan to give the Democrats control over the House of Representatives. It is a giant betrayal.”
Passing the resolution — which was drafted by moderate Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) and largely backed by the group he chairs, the centrist Republican Governance Group — would require significant Democrat votes to ensure that McHenry can begin scheduling floor votes.
Even Jordan, who co-founded the House Freedom Caucus a decade ago, could not convince his far-right friends, who have been opposed to empowering McHenry, to back the idea. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the current chair of the Freedom Caucus, said he wouldn’t, and when asked if Jordan’s support could persuade him, Perry replied, “We all fall short with the grace of God.”
Republican opponents warned against empowering a speaker with the help of Democrats, an action that has typically and historically been a partisan exercise.
“We shouldn’t be setting this precedent or this will be the way we elect speakers from now on,” Perry said.
A significant number of Democrats would vote in favor of the resolution if it reaches the floor, multiple Democrats said. They are not calling for a power-sharing agreement like far-right lawmakers claim, which would require Republicans to negotiate with Democrats how a consensus speaker could change the House rules to make it work in a more bipartisan way.
Instead, Democrats view reopening the House, after weeks of a speaker stalemate, without Jordan and the MAGA base as a win. They can say they helped fund the government and take up military aid to Israel and Ukraine, even if it meant voting for a temporary Republican speaker of the House.
McHenry, they note, voted to certify the 2020 presidential election when 139 House Republicans didn’t. He negotiated the debt ceiling deal with President Biden earlier this year, and he advocated for keeping the government open when faced with a shutdown last month.
Furthermore, if Jordan remains the Republican designee for speaker and he continues to try to win, Democrats can still use him as a foil and paint the entire party as extremists whose leader is an election denier. Jordan is a key ally to former president Donald Trump and his effort to overturn the 2020 election. He also rejected a subpoena from the congressional panel tasked with investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), who has pledged to continue voting against Jordan, had hoped that Jordan would do the “honorable thing” and step down as the Republican speaker designee amid this stalemate.
“Look,” Rutherford said. “Steve Scalise beat him in a head-to-head race in the conference, and he refused to accept the outcome of that race. He broke the rules, didn’t follow the majority vote, and now he wants us to.”
Paul Kane, Mariana Alfaro and Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.