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It’s Time for House Speaker Mike Gallagher
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It’s Time for House Speaker Mike Gallagher

The world is too perilous for Republicans to continue wasting time with unserious lawmakers.

Rep.-elect Mike Gallagher (R-WI) delivers remarks in the House Chamber during the second day of elections for Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol Building on January 04, 2023 in Washington, D.C.(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As America’s foremost ally in the Middle East responds to a brutal terrorist attack, the Republican-controlled House has been mired in a petty and self-indulgent impasse of its own making. Days before Hamas’ onslaught against Israel, eight Republicans—led by the ever-steady hand of Rep. Matt Gaetz—decided to team up with Democrats and depose House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, without any clear successor waiting in the wings. 

Weeks later, the various factions of the GOP conference have proven incapable of uniting around a replacement. The candidacy of Majority Leader Steve Scalise lasted less than 24 hours. As of Wednesday evening, Rep. Jim Jordan’s effort to secure the speaker’s gavel had failed twice, halted by different combinations of moderates, Scalise allies, and members of the Appropriations Committee. 

Increasingly desperate to break the gridlock, GOP lawmakers are discussing two potential options. They could empower the speaker pro tempore, currently Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, and give the House the ability to resume functioning in a limited fashion. They could also partner with their more moderate colleagues across the aisle to elect a speaker with bipartisan support. Despite relying on Democratic votes, the second path serves Republicans’ partisan interests—and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin is best positioned to take up this mantle.

The series of own-goals by Republicans in recent weeks would almost be funny if it weren’t for their real-world consequences. Israel needs money and arms, but the House—which holds the power of the purse—is hard-pressed to provide the requisite aid without a speaker. The Ukrainian counteroffensive has also consumed incredible amounts of ammunition and needs further support that a speakerless House likely can’t provide. The Biden administration has made clear Congress will have to take the lead on any additional border security efforts, and we are, of course, now less than a month away from the next government shutdown deadline. The House—and in turn Congress—is more or less paralyzed without a speaker. Electing one is critical to passing several urgent pieces of legislation.

In nakedly partisan terms, Republicans also need a speaker who can lead their fundraising efforts over the next year. Whatever his faults, McCarthy was a titan of the fundraising circuit. And with Biden running for reelection, Republicans would theoretically like to cast themselves as an alternative to the chaos that they argue is playing out in the economy and on the world stage—but that pitch makes a lot less sense when the GOP is sowing chaos itself.

It’s time for Republicans to get their House in order. And while an empowered speaker pro tempore may remove GOP infighting from the headlines—no small gift—whoever fills that role will be viewed as a placeholder, and won’t be able to provide the necessary leadership heading into an election year. Only a genuine speaker of the House can provide enough media cover and build the fundraising juggernaut the conference needs.

Those Republicans who deposed McCarthy are clearly not interested in supporting a consensus candidate willing to pass compromise legislation through a divided government and stake out a general-election friendly GOP message. And it’s grown increasingly clear in recent days that the firebrand political personalities this faction might support—Jim Jordan—are nonstarters for the GOP’s more pragmatic wing. Given Republicans’ narrow majority, any candidate looking to hit the requisite 217-vote threshold will therefore need some amount of bipartisan backing: a Republican who can position the GOP for 2024 while also being palatable enough to receive some Democratic support.

Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin is that kind of Republican—and we aren’t the only ones to think so. Between failed speaker votes on Wednesday, Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman reported that the 39-year-old Marine Corps veteran was receiving some encouragement to throw his hat in the ring once it becomes clear Jordan doesn’t have the votes. Earlier in the day, GOP Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana had re-upped a piece Gallagher wrote for The Atlantic in 2018. The title? “How to Salvage Congress.”

If handled delicately, we have no doubt Gallagher’s speaker bid would enjoy the support of the vast majority of the Republican conference. He maintains good relationships with his GOP colleagues, and he’s consistently been a leading voice for House Republicans, drawing contrasts with the Biden administration on a number of different issues—particularly the growing threat posed by China. For those concerned with process and top-down governance, Gallagher has also publicly critiqued the excessive concentration of authority in House leadership and advocated for reforms that would decentralize power in the chamber.

Gallagher would undoubtedly face some Republican holdouts due to his criticism of former President Donald Trump—both on January 6, 2021 and after—but that very criticism, along with his demonstrated willingness to work across the aisle, could help him attract enough Democratic support to fill in the gaps. Earlier this year, he passed up an opportunity to run for the U.S. Senate in order to continue his work on the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party where, as chairman, he has eschewed messaging bills and partisan soundbites. Instead, he has worked to forge consensus on policy changes necessary to combat China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang and deter Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait.

Fundamentally, Gallagher is a serious person. There are many fault lines in Congress, but one that cuts across party lines is the divide between members who want to govern and members who want to be famous. Gallagher is a legislator, not an entertainer.

That is crucial. Recent events should remind us that politics is not a show. It’s time enough members of Congress grasp that too—even if motivated by self-interest and political self-preservation—and select a speaker ready to meet the moment, ushering in support for Israel, aid for Ukraine, and a deal to stave off a government shutdown. Gallagher could be that speaker.

Thomas Harvey is a student at Harvard Law School.

Thomas Koenig is a recent graduate of Harvard Law School.