DemDaily: Holding the House Hostage

October 12, 2023

House GOP Majority Leader Steve Scalise (LA) on Wednesday was elected "Speaker-Designate" of the United States House of Representatives by his Republican colleagues -- one week after they historically ousted his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy (CA), whose turbulent speakership lasted only nine months.

Scalise's ascension to Speaker, however, is far from assured; he must still be elected before the full House by a majority that seems increasingly out of reach. His biggest obstacle is not the Democrats, but factions within his own party whose stark ideological divide has been on full display since their takeover of the House.

McCarthy's reign ended as it began -- in controversy -- at the hands of the ultra-right insurrectionist members of the GOP House Freedom Caucus, led by Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL), who dictated McCarthy's tenure from the outset.

Following the 2022 midterm elections, control of the US House of Representatives flipped from 222 Democrats-213 Republicans in the 117th Congress, to 222 Republicans-213 Democrats in the 118th Congress.

Among the extreme concessions that McCarthy made to the right-wing bloc, after 15 failed rounds of voting in January, was on the "motion to vacate," or remove, the Speaker of the House -- which previously required the support of at least half of the majority party to trigger a vote. Under the new rule, a single rank-and-file lawmaker from either party can force a vote to oust the Speaker, which then requires a simple majority of Congress to pass.

In retaliation for budgetary compromises McCarthy made with Democrats to avoid an October 1 government shutdown, Gaetz exercised the new rule. On October 3, he led a fiery televised House floor debate among Republican members that ended in a 216-210 vote to strip McCarthy of the Speaker's gavel.

Without an anointed successor to McCarthy, however, all business before the US House has come to a complete halt -- amid an international humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and a looming November 17 budget deadline.

In an extension of the intra-party squabble, the relatively moderate Scalise, who has served in GOP leadership for much of his nine terms, was challenged by Freedom Caucus co-founder and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (OH), whose candidacy was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

In a closed-door vote October 11, Scalise won the GOP conference's nomination, beating Jordan by a 113-99 vote. A House floor vote of 217, however, is required to win the speakership, and -- despite Jordan's subsequent announcement that he would support Scalise -- hard-line conservatives are balking at the notion of the Louisiana Congressman as Speaker. Several are insistent they will still vote for Jordan, who has yet to formally withdraw from the Speaker's race.

With just 221 Republicans in the House (and one vacancy), Scalise can only afford to lose four votes. Thus far, at least 15 members have stated their opposition, seeking some of the same concessions they sought from McCarthy. Others have cited concerns about Scalise's health as he undergoes treatment for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

Members who oppose Scalise include Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Lauren Boebert (CO), Chip Roy (TX), Bob Good (VA), Barry Moore (AL), Michael Cloud (TX), Nancy Mace (SC), Max Miller (OH) and Lloyd Smucker (PA).

"We have a lot of work to do...We need to makes sure we are sending a message to people throughout the world that the House is open and doing the people's business." - Speaker-Designate Steve Scalise

After meeting privately for more than two hours this afternoon with conference members, "Speaker-Designate" Scalese was no closer to the 217 threshold. He planned to meet with individual detractors this afternoon before another anticipated conference meeting this evening.

That means a vote could be pushed to Friday, or next week -- if Scalise can pave a path to victory. Until then, the people's House is held hostage.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: US House, CNN, NBC, Axios


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