The real House Republican drama: Whether to empower the temp speaker

The real House Republican drama: Whether to empower the temp speaker

The real House GOP drama on Wednesday wasn’t over Jim Jordan’s second ballot speaker vote — which failed, as expected. It’s about what happens afterward.

A group of centrist Republicans, led by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio), are privately pushing a measure that would expand powers for their acting speaker, Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). And on the House’s 15th day without a speaker, Joyce is expected to move forward with that effort, which has won approval from prior speakers like John Boehner.

“We need to be able to move things forward,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who is among those pushing to empower McHenry. “There is a consensus that we need to be able to have a process to move legislation forward.”

Even Jordan himself said Wednesday morning that he would support voting on a proposal to empower McHenry, though he’s indicating that he plans to push his embattled speaker candidacy to a third ballot. Most Republicans believe that idea would fall short of a majority on their side of the aisle.

“I’m all for calling that question,” Jordan said, giving no indication how he’d vote on new power for McHenry. “Let’s get a Republican speaker. I think that’s the best option, but I want to know the answer to the other question.”

That’s where things will get even more complicated, though. Republicans involved in writing the Joyce measure are staying secretive so far about its precise details. According to two people familiar with the discussions, lawmakers considered adding language to Joyce’s plan that would keeping McHenry in charge for debate on a stopgap government funding plan — the current shutdown deadline is Nov. 17 — as well as a vote on a forthcoming aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

But after Jordan’s second ballot failure, Joyce suggested that no such details would be included.

“It’s just to open the place,” Joyce said. “This isn’t trying to do anything other than let us do the business while we continue to have this run for speaker.”

Joyce’s plan would also come with a time limit for McHenry’s powers.

Jordan’s allies — many of them in the conservative House Freedom Caucus — are leading a public campaign against the idea of empowering McHenry, arguing it would effectively set up a “coalition government” because it has Democratic support. The right flank also argues that McHenry’s ascendancy would hurt their efforts to enact a conservative agenda.

Given how fluid the situation is, Republicans are still uncertain about exactly what will happen on their second speaker vote, scheduled for midday Wednesday.

Indeed, Republicans like Diaz-Balart insisted that any plan expanding McHenry’s authority to run the House should be a “Republican proposal” — one with no involvement by Democrats, even though they will almost certainly need to provide the lion’s share of votes to pass it.

Democrats, including those in the Problem Solvers Caucus and the Blue Dog Coalition, have been back-channeling with several Republicans about the idea for more than a week, as first reported by POLITICO.

Yet they’ve been clear that any measure would need substantial trade-offs for Democrats.

Top Democrats like Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries haven’t ruled out supporting a motion to empower McHenry, and others in the caucus are waiting for their leader’s guidance.

“It’s time to end the Republican civil war, and in order to do that, all options are on the table,” Jeffries said in a brief interview.

“The play for Democrats right now is to keep Jim Jordan from becoming Speaker of the House,” said Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Okla.), a House Freedom Caucus member. “And so I’m greatly concerned that anything that would be temporary in nature is designed so that [Democrats] don’t have to make concessions on spending. They don’t have to make concessions on the border.”

One of Jordan’s closest friends in the House, Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), echoed that view: “This wouldn’t pass with just Republican votes.”

Davidson then added a preview of the wedge that Joyce’s pending proposal will drive through the House GOP: “The only way this is going to be viewed by the American people and most of my colleagues is a plan for a coalition government with Hakeem Jeffries.”

Nicholas Wu contributed.

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