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House Republicans fritter away negotiating leverage versus Democrats with speaker fight

Speaker vote — 01/03/2023 Graeme Jennings/Washington Examiner

House Republicans fritter away negotiating leverage versus Democrats with speaker fight

David M. Drucker

January 04, 09:14 AM January 04, 09:14 AM

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House Republicans are squandering any ability to squeeze concessions from Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden in legislative negotiations as a protracted family feud rages over the election of a new speaker.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), chosen by the vast majority of House Republicans to serve as the speaker, fell short of the required 218 votes Tuesday when a small minority of the conference blocked his ascension. Presumably, McCarthy or an alternative Republican will eventually win the gavel. But with their majority resting on just a handful of seats, House Republicans’ capacity to play hardball with Biden and a Democratic Senate, already tenuous, is severely compromised.

“This should be the easy part,” said Doug Heye, a Republican operative and former House GOP leadership aide. “If Republicans can’t do the easy part of electing a speaker, governing will be that much harder.”

The biennial floor vote of the full House to elect a speaker, a constitutionally designated position second in line for the presidency, had not exceeded a single ballot in 100 years.

McCarthy, nominated prior to the first vote by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), the House Republican Conference chairwoman, garnered 203 votes, with 19 Republicans defecting in favor of other nominated and unnominated candidates. In round two, McCarthy received 203 votes again. However, this time around, the 19 defectors coalesced around Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who isn’t seeking the gavel and had just finished delivering a rousing speech nominating McCarthy.

FOUR REASONS THE REPUBLICAN-CONTROLLED HOUSE IS ALREADY IN DISARRAY

Prior to round three of the futile voting, McCarthy was nominated by incoming House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), a possible alternative candidate for speaker. McCarthy lost a vote as the holdouts grew their ranks to 20, after which the House adjourned until Wednesday afternoon.

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This stalemate, with no immediate end in sight, suggests rough seas ahead for House Republicans — regardless of whom they settle on for speaker. Politically charged, must-pass legislation is on tap, such as bills to fund the government and increase the debt ceiling. After watching House Republicans flail over electing a speaker, neither Biden nor Senate Democrats are likely to be compelled to compromise with a conference beset by internecine warfare.

“This Republican-on-Republican infighting is only hurting one thing — our party,” Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Committee chairwoman, said in a Fox News interview.

Republicans won the House majority in the midterm elections but just barely, leaving McCarthy with just four votes to spare to win the speaker’s gavel — and leaving his conference with just four votes to spare to pass legislation in the 118th Congress versus united Democratic opposition. Such is the case in the vote for speaker. With each vote, all 212 House Democrats voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the incoming minority leader.

This dynamic has empowered a distinct minority of House Republicans that numbers about 10% of the conference to overrule the majority and grind the gears of the chamber to a halt absent cooperation with the Democrats. Neither side was showing any sign of relenting Wednesday morning. The majority of House Republicans supporting McCarthy was dug in, resentful of being whipsawed by a minority of their conference, while that minority was emboldened.

Late Tuesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a ringleader of the House GOP defectors, essentially demanded McCarthy be ejected from the Capitol’s designated suite of offices for House speakers. McCarthy began moving in in anticipation of winning the gavel after his conference voted overwhelmingly, in November, to make him their choice for the chamber’s top post. Gaetz made his request in a letter to the Architect of the Capitol, the authority overseeing the operations of the building.

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“Please write back promptly as it seems Mr. McCarthy can no longer be considered Speaker-Designate following today’s balloting,” Gaetz wrote.

The internal divisions roiling House Republicans and jeopardizing prospects for conservative reforms amid Democratic control of the Senate and White House is typical. After winning large, historic majorities in the 2010 midterm elections under President Barack Obama, House Republicans regularly failed to agree among themselves on key legislation.

The pragmatic conservatives, a majority in the conference, did not necessarily disagree on policy with their insurgent colleagues, a minority who eventually organized under the banner of the House Freedom Caucus. But the two factions disagreed on tactics, with the pragmatists believing governing via incremental conservative reforms was imperative and the House Freedom Caucus embracing a style of aggressive, all-or-nothing opposition.

Obama and a Senate under the Democratic Party’s control balked at the House Freedom Caucus demands.

And as often happened, then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was forced to put less conservative legislation on the floor and rely on the minority House Democrats to pass it. With House Republicans now wielding a historically small majority, that is what could await under Biden and the current Democratic majority in the Senate — if the GOP can manage to elect a speaker and get to work at all.

“What’s at stake is how much leverage a Republican speaker has on [spending legislation] and other must-pass bills,” a GOP operative said. “Boehner’s speakership was wrecked when he lost the confidence [of his members] to engage in gamesmanship.”

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