In a nation renowned for its political prowess, securing the nomination for the role of the Speaker from one’s majority party in the House of Representatives typically sets an individual amid the most influent legislative leaders. However, the current landscape within the GOP, post the unceremonious removal of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, adds a venomous touch to this esteemed vantage point.
As we stand merely three weeks away from McCarthy’s ousting, the likely emergence of a nominee on the following Tuesday seems to be embarking upon a seemingly impossible political mission. Aligning a deeply-divided conference has thrusted an herculean task upon the nominee, with the spectre of an excruciatingly short tenure, shorter even than McCarthy’s nine-month spell, looming large in wake of a potential victory.
This situation pivots around a scenario far beyond the internal strife of the Republican Party. The stakes stand high for the nation as a disorganized GOP majority in the House runs the risk of leaving the US Government devoid of funds prior to the weeklong Thanksgiving hiatus, an eventuality that could negatively impact millions of American citizens.
As the corridors of power braced for the return of lawmakers to Washington this Monday, a notable surge in public dissatisfaction was becoming apparent with regards to the three-week deadlock that has stymied the House. Emergent global challenges and the looming shutdown deadline only exacerbated this discontent.
As Congressman Vern Buchanan reveals, his Florida constituents firmly believe that “…all of us are incapable.” Buchanan has endorsed fellow Floridian Byron Donalds for the Speaker’s office. This sentiment of dissatisfaction reflects the growing public ire – “People are very angry and upset.”
Election Tuesday is supposed to feature eight contenders fighting for the nominee’s spot in a secret ballot. This development follows failed attempts by Steve Scalise, the House Majority Leader, and Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Chairman, to fill the void left behind by McCarthy. Despite Monday night’s campaign pitches to the party conference, the culmination of the secret balloting might not result in a nominee who commands the essential majority in the House. This lack of consensus underlines the stark disparities within the GOP, especially between far-right hardliners who orchestrated McCarthy’s removal and moderate law makers who hold battleground districts.
Owing to their slim majority, any Republican nominee’s confirmation as Speaker is contingent on near-unanimous party support, which appears unlikely given the significant inner party divisions. Ex-President Donald Trump, sought for endorsement by leading candidates, seems to be treating the speaker’s crisis humorously, suggesting that only divine intervention can bring about a resolution.
As Trump humorously opined in New Hampshire, “There’s only one person who can do it all the way…You know who that is? Jesus Christ. If Jesus came down and said, ‘I want to be speaker,’ he would do it.”
Interestingly, the pool of eight nominees reflects a void of powerful individuals capable of monopolizing the race, suggesting a weak base of support for whoever emerges victorious.
One potential candidate making strides is Tom Emmer, the House Majority Whip. However, his connections to the House leadership team that the right-wing House Freedom Caucus distrusts could undermine his candidacy, much like Scalise and McCarthy before him. Byron Donalds, a House Freedom Caucus member and one of Congress’s few Black Republicans, could pose as an alternative. Yet, Donalds’s potentially radical stances might alienate moderate Republicans in districts won by President Joe Biden. Their frustration against lawmakers responsible for McCarthy’s ouster is increasingly tangible, making it quite difficult for them to accept a far-right Speaker.
However, the identity of the upcoming Republican Speaker, still unknown as none of the eight candidates are female, might seem trivial compared to the challenges at hand. The House GOP’s three-week struggle to elect a new leader hinted towards misplaced priorities at a time when a new government funding deal should have been their central agenda to avert a shutdown in mid-November. With barely three weeks left until the Thanksgiving break, even if the GOP manages to present a new speaker by the end of this week, a pact with a Democrat-driven Senate and the White House is needed to prevent another governance crisis on the GOP majority’s watch.
The upcoming crucial funding showdown would be an unprecedented test for the new Speaker, with the additional threat of being a compromised figure poised on the precipice of losing his position atop a restless conference.
Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, expressed his concerns on Fox News during the weekend: “They got big decisions coming down the road. There’s a very real danger that they’ll elect somebody and three of four or five weeks from now, you’re going to have a group of people blow up and decide to go back into the same mess.”
This daunting predicament is heightened with the realization that the same impossible choices that posed a threat to McCarthy during the narrowly averted government shutdown last month, will once again present themselves to the new Speaker. With a Democrat-controlled Senate and White House, catering to hardliners’ demands for spending cuts proved impossible for McCarthy. He eventually had to rely on some Democratic votes to pass a stopgap funding bill, a move that was instrumental in his downfall.
The urgent need to fill the Speaker’s vacated seat may finally push the GOP to resolve the stalemate. However, there exists the likelihood that a compromise candidate may lack years of groundwork necessary to build a power base within the Capitol and on crucial fundraising circulations, hence reducing their effectiveness as a leader of a tricky conference.
The party leaders can only lose four votes and still pass a legislation along party lines. This underlines the vast splits within the conference and underlines the lack of a reliable Republican majority for any legislation in the House at the coordinates of the political timeline.
Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky envisioned this leadership crisis as an indication that the GOP is “…not functioning as a majority. And when you lose that, you lose the ability to govern.”
The 2024 General Elections might be over a year away, yet witnessing a House undermined by its internal divisions doesn’t bode well for the GOP. The party’s inability to implement its agenda and demonstrate to the voters that it can effectively handle a majority puts it at a disadvantage, especially when jamming the Democrats into casting difficult political votes that can potentially hurt them later – a usual tactic employed by majority parties at this juncture in the political cycle.
Furthermore, this uncertainty is not just harming the Republicans internally. If the leadership continues to remain suspended the repercussions may extend nationwide and even globally. A government shutdown may impact countless American lives, including members of the military who might go without pay, and freeze critical international aid.
Domestically, the deadlock means that vital bills on issues like farming, energy, foreign operations and emergency aid to Israel amid its conflict with Hamas is halted. Moreover, President Biden’s proposed $60 billion aid package for Ukraine is at an impasse. Rep. Larry Bucshon expresses his concerns, “I think House Republicans know that this is very detrimental to the country. Look at what is going on … over in Israel, what’s happening in Ukraine, and all the other things we know are happening in the world, including in our own country,” The Indiana Republican also warned that the party is hurting itself by delaying decisive funding decisions.
He further reiterated, “I think it does put us at a disadvantage. We don’t have someone who is the speaker of the House to negotiate with the White House, with Senate Democrats who are in the majority. … It does put us at a political disadvantage. Also practically for the country, it’s not a good thing.” The events that unfold in the immediate future, will no doubt have long lasting impact on the nation’s future political landscape.