DemDaily: The Bitter Battle for the Gavel

October 13, 2023

At 10pm last night, House GOP Majority Leader Steve Scalise (LA), who was nominated by the Republican conference as "Speaker-Designate" just 24 hours before, withdrew his name from contention to be the 56th Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

“Our conference still has to come together and is not there. There are still some people that have their own agendas, and I was very clear we have to have everybody put their agendas on the side and focus on what this country needs.” - Steve Scalise declaring his withdrawal

Scalise's announcement was just the latest in the bitter battle for the Speaker's gavel that began with the contentious election of Congressman Kevin McCarthy (CA) to the Speakership in January after an unprecedented 15 rounds of voting.

The extreme concessions that McCarthy made to hardline conservatives to secure the gavel set him up for failure from the beginning -- too compromised to govern effectively or unite one of the most divisive conferences in GOP history.

His tumultuous term ended October 3, after a heated floor battle between factions of his own party ended with a 216-210 vote to make McCarthy the first US Speaker to be removed from the chair.

At McCarthy's suggestion, GOP Congressman Patrick McHenry (NC) was named interim Speaker pro tempore until a permanent successor can be elected.

Until then, the House is paralyzed -- unable to conduct any legislative business.

In an October 11 close-door session, the Republican conference endorsed Scalise, a relative moderate, as "Speaker-Designate" over House Judiciary Chair and ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan (OH) by a 113-99 vote.

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.

The Math Problem: Securing the Speaker's gavel, however, requires 217 GOP votes before the full House; requiring the vote of all but four of the 221 Republicans in the House (there is one vacancy).

Unable to garner the necessary support from his ideologically fractious party, Scalise withdrew from the nomination, triggering a new contest and vote today -- between Jordan and new challenger and little-known seven-term Georgia Congressman Austin Scott.

Scott, a mainstream conservative, said in announcing his bid that the GOP's inability to elect a new speaker -- driven by small group of holdouts -- “makes us look like a bunch of idiots.”

“We’ve got a very small group of people that they have to have everything their way. We had a group that sabotaged Speaker McCarthy and now we’ve had a group that sabotaged Steve Scalise, both of them great people,” Scott said. "I don't necessarily want to be Speaker of the House, I just want the House to function correctly."

Speaker Jordan? Jordan, however, who has the support of former President Donald Trump, won the late afternoon conference vote, 124-81 over Scott. In a second secret ballot, when asked whether they would support Jordan on the House floor, 152 members reportedly voted yes, 55 no and 1 present.

Although Jordan is still far short of the 217 threshold needed to ascend to the Speakership, a vote is expected next Tuesday -- in the hopes of pressuring members between now and then to support him in the interest of ending the very public, disastrous crisis of leadership in the Republican Party.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries blasted the nomination of Jordan, "the chairman of the chaos caucus." “House Republicans now have a choice," he said, continue on the path of "dysfunction and extremism that has been visited upon the American people as a result of the House Republicans civil war...or partner with Democrats on an enlightened bipartisan path forward so we can end the recklessness and get back to doing the business of the American people.”

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: US House, CNN, NBC, Washington Post

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