The House Speaker Fiasco Keeps on Going

Rep. Jim Jordan holds a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on October 20, 2023, in Washington. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Happy Friday! Thanks to everyone who made it out to our Dispatch D.C. event last night.

Up to Speed

  • Shortly after returning from Israel, President Joe Biden on Thursday delivered a prime-time address in the Oval Office linking the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel and calling for Congress to approve additional funding for both. “Hamas and Putin represent different threats. But they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy,” Biden said. “We cannot and will not let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin win.”
  • Mark Robinson, the controversial North Carolina lieutenant governor seeking his state’s top job in 2024, has a new opponent in the Republican primary: lawyer and wealthy businessman Bill Graham. As The Dispatch first reported earlier this week, Graham had been encouraged to run for governor by GOP insiders inside and outside of North Carolina because some in the party worry Robinson will lose in the general election. The Tarheel State is a competitive battleground that for several years has been simultaneously voting Democrat for governor and Republican for president.  
  • California Sen. Laphonza Butler told the New York Times Thursday that she will not run next year for the seat she was appointed to this month, calling service in the Senate “not the greatest use of my voice” for California. Butler was appointed to the seat by Gov. Gavin Newsom after the death of Dianne Feinstein, who had held it for more than 30 years. Butler’s departure from the race leaves a three-way contest between Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, and Barbara Lee. 
  • Sidney Powell, one of the attorneys who made the public case on behalf of Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen or fraudulent, has pleaded guilty in Fulton County, Georgia, to charges she conspired with other Trump supporters—and Trump himself—to disrupt the 2020 election proceedings in the state. Powell was set to begin her trial next week, and as part of her deal with prosecutors will “serve six years of probation, will be fined $6,000, and will have to write an apology letter to Georgia and its residents. … She also agreed to testify truthfully against her co-defendants at future trials,” the Associated Press reported.

The House Mess Gets Messier

And we thought the chaos immediately after Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as House speaker was bad. Two weeks on, Republicans are no closer to installing his replacement, conference morale is cratering, leadership is rudderless, and it’s plainer than ever that there’s just no plan.

Speaker-designate Jim Jordan thought he had a plan. A few of them, in fact. Plan A was to browbeat and/or sweet-talk enough of the holdouts into line for the Ohio Republican to win on Tuesday’s first ballot, or failing that on Wednesday’s second. Plan B was revealed Thursday morning: Jordan told his colleagues he would push to empower the acting speaker pro tem, Rep. Patrick McHenry, to serve as a functional speaker for a few months and shepherd Congress through its current legislative crunch, then try to vote again.

On paper, this was a conciliatory, everybody-wins proposal: McHenry, a McCarthy ally, would have been a broadly acceptable leader to take the wheel on a few pieces of crucial legislation, including votes on aid to Israel and Ukraine, and averting yet another looming government shutdown.

Yet it blew up almost immediately. Many of Jordan’s detractors, Republicans and Democrats alike, weren’t about to give the floundering speaker-designate months of new runway to shore up support. And his hardline supporters saw it as a slap in the face: The guy they nominated to be a rock-ribbed conservative was going to hand off the next few major negotiating fights to a pragmatist who would need Democratic votes to get there in the first place? Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a Jordan supporter, called the proposal a “giant betrayal” and “the biggest F-U to Republican voters I’ve ever seen.”

Hours after throwing his weight behind the McHenry proposal, Jordan pulled the plug, instead redoubling his efforts to win over his detractors. On Thursday afternoon, alongside McCarthy and McHenry, he met with a group of opposition Republicans to hear their concerns. (A Reuters photographer snapped a pic of his handwritten notes: “What is the real reason?”)

That “real reason” isn’t hard to figure out, although it differs from opponent to opponent, be they members loyal to House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, defense hawks, appropriators, or conservative pragmatists unhappy with the whole process. Above all, the holdouts are dug in against the pressure campaign that’s being waged against them, one that Jordan has lately disavowed. Several said they’d received death threats. One of these, Rep. Drew Ferguson, said in a statement he’d initially planned to support Jordan on the second ballot, but that it had become clear to him that “the House Republican Conference does not need a bully as the Speaker.”

Jordan will try again on a third ballot today at 10 a.m., although there’s every reason to believe the math is worse for him than ever. But during a Friday morning press conference on Capitol Hill, Jordan indicated the House would keep working through the weekend if necessary to elect a speaker.

“Our plan this weekend is to get a speaker elected to the House Representatives as soon as possible, so we can help the American people,” Jordan said, adding that he thinks he will win back a few supporters that he lost from Wednesday’s vote.

Whether Jordan soldiers on indefinitely or bows out, the situation underscores just how leaderless the House GOP is at the moment. In theory, the present most senior member of House Republican leadership is Scalise—but he has largely washed his hands of the process since Jordan supporters torpedoed his speaker bid. Instead, it’s McCarthy and McHenry flanking Jordan as he tries to wheedle the holdouts around to his point of view. The guy who got run off the job, the guy installed to mind the shop, and the guy whose path to election seems to shrink by the hour—at the moment, that’s the shadow triumvirate atop the Republican conference. We’ll see whether that arrangement even survives the weekend.

Nevada Caucus Shunned by Trio of GOP Contenders

Even the sanctity of the crucial, early primary state isn’t immune from Republican infighting. 

Three Republican presidential contenders—Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and Tim Scott—are bypassing the February 8 Nevada caucuses, the third contest on the GOP nominating calendar. Their campaigns declined to comment Thursday as to why. But Republican operatives monitoring the race for the GOP presidential nomination say these candidates did not want to pay a hefty $55,000 entry fee to participate in a contest they believe the Nevada Republican Party is rigging to assure Donald Trump wins. 

Instead, these three candidates plan to participate in the traditional Republican primary being held February 6. The contest, mandated by state law, is being administered by government election officials. “The state party is totally in the bag for Trump. And to participate in the caucus, you have to pay $55,000 to a state party in the bag for Trump,” a GOP operative supportive of Haley said. “It’s about momentum. Haley’s running a smart and lean campaign, they’re smart to play in the primary.” 

“What is the point of participating in one of Donald Trump’s rigged elections?” a second Republican operative advising a GOP presidential contender added.

Trump is the overwhelming frontrunner in the Republican primary—nationally and across all of the early voting states.

Given that the former president is particularly popular among grassroots Republicans in Nevada, it’s possible some of his opponents entered the primary to avoid losing a key early contest. (The state GOP is prohibiting candidates from participating in both, and nominating delegates will only be awarded via the caucuses.) It’s also true that among some Republican insiders in Nevada, the state GOP has a reputation for poor management and that the chairman, Michael McDonald, is believed to be a Trump partisan.

“Most folks in Nevada who aren’t the six or seven running the state party or the Nevada Trump campaign think the caucus is the dumbest thing in a long list of dumb things the party has done,” a GOP operative said. “As to whether they can run it? Probably not, but I’m guessing turnout will be a joke so they can likely sort a way to count a small amount of votes.”

In Iowa, there is no candidate entry fee for the January 15 caucus, despite the scale and significance of a contest—the first on the GOP’s nominating calendar—that looms large in the primary. Still, despite the complaints about the Nevada caucus and concerns about whether the state GOP is capable of adequately administering them, there are four Republican candidates other than Trump who filed to participate before the October 16 deadline, according to the Nevada Independent.

They include Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy. Because the caucus is sanctioned by the party and awards delegates to the Republican presidential nominating convention in July 2024, it would seem to be the preferred contest to compete in. But Jon Ralston, a veteran observer of Nevada politics and founder and CEO of the Nevada Independent, said it’s possible the traditional primary that precedes the caucus by two days might prove influential.

“I am not sure the primary, which will be first, will be a sideshow—if Trump falters in the previous states and Haley, perhaps, can use Nevada to pick up momentum,” Ralston explained to The Dispatch. “Delegates—we only have a couple dozen—may not be nearly so important as momentum.”

McDonald did not respond to an email requesting comment. 

Notable and Quotable

“I miss the good ol’ days when we used to do 2-3 votes a day for speaker. Gets it done faster.” 

—Rep. Mike Collins, Republican of Georgia, on the House’s current dysfunction, October 18, 2023

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