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House Republicans to Decide on a Speaker—Probably
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House Republicans to Decide on a Speaker—Probably

Plus: A divide within the New Right on the U.S. response to the attack on Israel.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise talks to U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan during a Republican-led forum on the origins of the COVID-19 virus at the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday. Andrew’s heading home to St. Louis today to attend his sister’s wedding later this week—if House Republicans wouldn’t mind staying deadlocked in the speaker fight until he can make it back, that’d be great.

Up to Speed

  • President Joe Biden offered another fiery address in support of Israel on Tuesday after that country began its assault on Gaza with the stated aim of eradicating the terrorist group Hamas. Biden said he’d told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming” and that the U.S. would continue to support “the people of Israel who are suffering unspeakable losses and opposing the hatred and violence of terrorism.”
  • House Republicans will gather this morning to nominate a candidate for speaker of the House, one week after former Rep. Kevin McCarthy lost the gavel in a vote on the House floor initiated by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican. The two declared candidates in the contest are Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan of Ohio; McCarthy himself has asked not to be renominated, despite a renewed push in the conference amid the crisis in the Middle East.
  • During a candidate forum on Tuesday afternoon, Scalise and Jordan were both asked whether Donald Trump had, as he continues to falsely claim, truly won the 2020 election. According to reporting from Politico’s Olivia Beavers, the candidates—who both voted not to certify the 2020 election in the wake of the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021—equivocated on the question, with one House Republican saying they “tried to have it both ways.”
  • Former newscaster Kari Lake, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and inveterate election denier who ran unsuccessfully for governor in Arizona last year, announced Tuesday that she will run for U.S. Senate against former Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Trump pre-taped a Lake endorsement for her launch event, and Sen. Steve Daines, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called her a “talented campaigner with an impressive ability to fire up the grassroots” in a Tuesday statement. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, jumped into the closely watched race earlier this year.
  • GOP Rep. George Santos’ legal troubles keep getting worse: Federal prosecutors on Tuesday filed a superseding indictment in Santos’ campaign-fraud case, with 10 additional charges ranging from stealing donors’ identities and running up their credit cards to embezzling campaign funds.

Decision Day for McCarthy’s Successor

This morning, House Republicans will meet privately to vote on Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s successor as speaker of the House. Members of the conference say their goal is to move on from their internal disagreements and find unity, but odds are slim either objective will be achieved anytime soon.

As GOP lawmakers left a lengthy candidate forum Tuesday night, neither Majority Leader Steve Scalise nor House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan—the two main candidates in the race—seemed to have consolidated a clear majority of support. And while some McCarthy allies argued this week that the unexpected crisis in Israel called for the conference to reunite behind him to get the House back up and running as quickly as possible, McCarthy himself largely shut the door on that prospect Tuesday, asking his colleagues not to renominate him before dipping out of the candidate forum early.

Today’s task will be complicated by an effort from Rep. Chip Roy to stave off another humiliating public spectacle for the conference. Typically, whichever candidate receives majority support from Republicans would be put forth to the full House as the party’s pick for speaker. But the Texas Republican has proposed a temporary rule change under which a majority-winning candidate must also clear a second, higher hurdle before becoming the Republican nominee: A “validation vote” requiring 217 Republicans to commit to supporting the candidate on the floor of the House.

If Roy’s rule is adopted, that validation vote would be conducted by secret ballot—unless the candidate were to fall just short. Under the terms of the amendment, if a candidate failed to consolidate 217 votes but secured at least 185—in other words, if he got 85 percent of the way there—another validation vote would take place by public roll call.

Why these extra layers of process? Because House Republicans, embarrassed by the dysfunction on display in McCarthy’s ouster, are trying to achieve two competing objectives at once: keeping the process of ironing out their differences from the public eye while maintaining pressure on possible saboteurs to play along with the team.

Republicans are not eager for a repeat of January’s speaker election, when they grimly squabbled through 15 public ballots while Democrats cheerfully munched popcorn on the sidelines. Getting commitments from 217 Republicans ahead of the floor vote would move that sausage-making behind closed doors—while also minimizing the risk that a group of centrist Republicans gets antsy and eyes the possibility of a compromise-speaker deal with Democrats.

At the same time, Republicans don’t want to let a splinter group—like the eight who shivved McCarthy—gum up the works from the comfort of a secret-ballot vote. Hence the 85 percent provision: If most of the caucus is lined up behind a candidate and you’re still dragging your heels, you’ll need to show your face.

Whether the conference chooses to adopt the rule or not, the House may be in for a rocky process. Asked after the conference meeting how he rated the odds of a new speaker being elected today, GOP Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky replied, “I’d put it at 2 percent.”

Israel and the NatCons

As the world learned of the horrific details of the deadly Hamas attack on Israel, the nearly unified reaction from Republican leaders and office-seekers has been that the Israeli response should be swift and decisive. Presidential candidate Nikki Haley summed up this collective view this weekend when she said Israel should “finish” the Palestinian terrorist group.

“Hamas did this,” the former United Nations ambassador said Saturday in an interview on Fox News. “You know Iran’s behind it. Finish them. They should have hell to pay for what they’ve just done.”

But one of Haley’s opponents in the GOP primary took issue with her comments. In a Monday appearance on former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s online show, Vivek Ramaswamy suggested Haley was “in a position to get wealthier from war.” Meanwhile, Carlson described Haley’s position as “the tantrum of a child,” while saying that she, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and “probably the entire leadership of the Republican Party” are “effectively calling for war with Iran.”

Ramaswamy later doubled down on his criticism while sharing the video on social media.

“Rabidly shouting ‘FINISH THEM!!!’ isn’t a coherent solution to a complex problem. This is the real world, not a video game,” he wrote. “@NikkiHaley has foreign policy ‘experience’ & it shows.”

Recent years have seen the ascendance of a new coalition of “national conservatives,” national-security doves who denounce the “moralizing” foreign policy of out-of-touch Washington leaders while favoring a more narrowly “America first” agenda. Ramaswamy channeled this spirit in his interview, arguing Republicans need leaders “to have the clarity and American-centric forethought to say, ‘What policy decisions we make are separate from the moral judgments that we will pass.’”

But while that view has grown dominant among many Republicans when it comes to conflicts like the war in Ukraine, Israel—a longtime close ally that the American right has supported with particular fervor—may be another matter. Even among national conservatives, the Tucker/Ramaswamy position of sneering at those who demand accountability for Hamas may not be widely held.

Consider Sen. Josh Hawley, for instance—among the loudest populist-inclined critics of U.S. monetary support for the Ukrainian military in its war against Russia. The Missouri Republican has long argued that funding Ukraine is hurting American military readiness to back Taiwan if and when the Chinese launch a military invasion there.

So it was notable when Hawley tweeted Monday that “Israel is facing existential threat” and that “any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.”

Another national conservative-aligned lawmaker, Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, said in a statement condemning the Hamas attacks that “Israel has a right to self-defense—that includes striking back with overwhelming force against their enemies. Now as ever, we must support our allies in their fight for freedom and security.”

These may be the new populist vanguard Republicans who have vowed to sweep out the old establishment in Washington, but on Israel, they’re sounding more like Nikki Haley and less like Tucker Carlson.

Whether this divide among the populist conservatives in their initial responses to the attacks will endure is hard to say. For the most part, Republicans in the era of Donald Trump have remained both staunch Iran hawks and Israel defenders. Gallup, for instance, recently found Republican voters, when compared to independents and Democrats, are far more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians. And Trump’s own simplistic and self-focused response to the Hamas attacks—claiming in New Hampshire last weekend that they (and the war in Ukraine, for that matter) would not have happened if he were still president—suggests Republican leaders won’t be looking to their top presidential candidate for guidance on Israel anytime soon.

But given the way support for Ukraine has steadily fallen among Republican voters since the Russian invasion last year, it’s politicians like Hawley and Vance who are worth watching in the coming weeks and months. A shift in their rhetoric may be a lagging indicator for a shift in the GOP electorate toward Carlson-esque skepticism.

Notable and Quotable

“We stand with Israel. And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack.”

—President Joe Biden, October 11, 2023

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.