It's been two weeks since Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz and a cadre of far rightwing lawmakers forced Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to vacate his position as Speaker of the House, ending what had already been a tumultuous era for congressional Republicans and plunging the party into weird and uncharted political waters. Already two Republican heavyweights, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have tried and failed to reach the requisite support for their respective bids to become speaker, leaving the fate of several upcoming major legislative necessities — including preventing a government shutdown — in uneasy limbo. At the same time, Scalise and Jordan's successive failures to earn the speaker's gavel have raised an even more unsettling possibility: that this current Republican majority may simply be unable to sufficiently unite behind anyone to serve as the next speaker of the House.
As GOP efforts to land on a suitable speaker nominee continue to falter, a growing cohort of lawmakers have begun circling around an unexpected solution. Rather than looking outside the box for a new consensus figure that Republicans can rally around, what if the best, most viable option to restart business as (somewhat) usual in the House is to simply turn to the man who has for the past two weeks worked in McCarthy's stead as his appointed steward: Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Patrick McHenry?
'A sensible alternative'
At the moment, McHenry's nebulous authority as Speaker Pro-Tem "limits how the House can govern as we search for a permanent Speaker," Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) explained on X, formerly Twitter. To that end, Kelly has begun circulating a resolution to expand McHenry's powers "until November 17, 2023 or until a new Speaker is elected," so that "the House will be able to hold votes necessary to fund the government" beyond that date.
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Last night, I introduced a resolution that would allow the House of Representatives to hold a formal election of the Honorable Patrick McHenry (R-NC) as Speaker Pro Tempore. McHenry is currently designated as Speaker Pro Tempore, which limits his powers (1/4) pic.twitter.com/qvaAxkaI0bOctober 17, 2023
Empowering McHenry is "a sensible alternative" to the chaos of more quixotic speaker bids from Rep. Jordan, who has vowed to force more votes on his nomination, The Washington Post's Editorial Board agreed. Expanding his authority — even temporarily — gives Republicans "time to regroup and find a more suitable long-term leader, without ignoring the nation’s business."
Calling an empowered McHenry "a lot better solution than gridlock and chaos," former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed expanding the pro tem speakership on his personal website, writing that "the machinery of constitutional government must move forward." Moreover, Gingrich mused, doing so would take the wind out of the sails of "loudmouthed chaos agents" who "will immediately become less important." On X, fellow former GOP speaker John Boehner endorsed Gingrich's essay, writing simply "I agree."
McHenry is "probably among the savviest inside players" in the House, according to Punchbowl News, but any effort to expand his powers "will almost certainly need Democratic votes to pass." That poses a paradox for backers of the plan, as some Republicans have "warned that Democratic support could imperil any intraparty desire to push McHenry as a more permanent option," Politico reported.
'A time for courage and creativity'
Despite McHenry's onetime reputation, per Roll Call, as a GOP "attack-dog," the prospect of expanding his powers as speaker pro tem has earned a number of Democratic backers, including the centrist Blue Dog Coalition which endorsed a proposal to grant McHenry additional powers "at 15 calendar day increments" and solely in regards to proposed bills covering "specific areas" such as government funding, and international aid to Ukraine and Israel.
Calling the ongoing congressional chaos "a time for courage and creativity by members of both parties," the coalition encouraged "civic-minded Americans to put aside their cynicism and pessimism about what is possible in the People’s House" in supporting McHenry. Even House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has "signaled openness about electing McHenry," according to CNBC, highlighting the latter's role as "a top GOP negotiator during a partisan clash in May over the nation’s debt limit."
Not all Republicans are on board, however. Jordan and his allies have been "whipping supporters to vote against the resolution empowering interim speaker Patrick McHenry" CNN's Melanie Zanona reported Wednesday.
Speaking with Politico, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) rejected current calls for McHenry's promotion, explaining "you’ve got to run out of options first."
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