Washington Update - October 23, 2023

Billy Moore    Dc2

Since removing Kevin McCarthy from the speakership on October 3, House Republicans have nominated two failed successors, leaving the House unable to act. House Republicans will try to nominate another candidate Tuesday. None of potential candidates have demonstrated an ability to command the near-unanimous support among their Republican colleagues needed to win a majority on the floor.

Republicans feel an urgency to act as the contrast of their leadership with President Biden’s grows. As House Republicans muddled in chaos, the President held a war zone meeting with Israeli leaders and returned to address the nation from the Oval Office on defending democratic values against terror and authoritarianism. 

Democrats are beginning to feel the urgency, too, in order to begin assembling bipartisan majorities to pass further appropriations, including President Biden’s supplemental spending proposal for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and the border.

The alternatives to electing a new speaker may have to arise in sequence to succeed. It is possible for Republican moderates to join with Democrats to elect a bipartisan speaker. If such a prospect becomes plausible, it would alarm the balance of the Republican Conference, making the short-term empowerment of Republican Acting Speaker Patrick McHenry the more likely outcome.

Electing McHenry would not be easy. The band of ultra-conservatives who unseated McCarthy would probably oppose McHenry, making support from Democrats necessary to elect him temporary Speaker and reopen the House. The votes of many Democrats could probably be won without concessions (outright concessions would doom the maneuver with most Republicans), because success would open the door for bipartisan achievements. After all, most House Republicans voted to increase the debt-limit, keep the government open, and fund Ukraine. 

Senate Democrats are grateful the chaos in the House has distracted attention from their inability to advance bipartisan spending bills in the face of opposition from a handful of Republican opponents.