U.S. House of Representatives Still Without A Speaker

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was removed from his leadership role by a vote of the House of Representatives on October 3, 2023. This vote marked the first time in U.S. history that a speaker of the House had been voted out of his or her position.

As of October 20, 2023, the United States House of Representatives has been without a speaker for 17 days. Because of the speakership vacancy, the House has been unable to conduct business. This state of affairs is problematic for multiple reasons. First, the dysfunction in the House makes the U.S. government appear chaotic, unreliable, and weak—both to the American people and to the rest of the world. Second, the federal government will shut down on November 17 if Congress fails to pass new funding legislation. A shutdown becomes more and more likely with each day that the House cannot conduct business.

Right now, the U.S. House of Representatives is a mess. The chief cause of this mess is a lack of unity amongst House Republicans, some of whom are so deeply at odds with one another that they are unable to complete the basic task of selecting a new speaker.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker of the House on January 7, 2023. It took 15 floor votes before Rep. McCarthy attained a majority. As Albany Update noted at the time, Rep. McCarthy made a series of concessions in order to gain the support of some of his fellow Republicans. One of those concessions was allowing any member of the House to force a vote on a motion to remove the speaker from his post. This type of motion is known as a motion to vacate.

Speaker McCarthy faced a challenging situation in late September. The House’s short-term spending bill was defeated on September 29. If funding legislation did not pass by October 1, the federal government would shut down. On September 30, 2023, to prevent a government shutdown from occurring the next day, Speaker McCarthy introduced a stopgap measure that would fund the government for the next 45 days. The bill did not include the spending cuts some Republicans desired. The bill passed the House, 335-91, with bipartisan support; it quickly passed the Senate and was signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Some House Republicans found it unacceptable that Speaker McCarthy had compromised with the Democrats to avert a government shutdown. On October 3, one of those Republicans, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, introduced a motion to remove Speaker McCarthy from his role as speaker of the House. The motion passed the House, 216-210. The eight House Republicans who supported Speaker McCarthy’s ouster were Reps. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Ken Buck (R-CO), Tim Burchett (R-TN), Eli Crane (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz, Bob Good (R-VA), Nancy Mace (R-SC), and Matt Rosendale (R-MT). Following the vote, Rep. McCarthy stated that he would not seek to regain the speakership. In accordance with House procedure, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) has acted as speaker pro tempore since October 3.

In the days that followed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s removal from the position of speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, it quickly became clear that the lawmakers who had engineered his defeat had no plan for how the House should proceed. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA), who holds the House’s second-highest leadership position, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, each sought to become the next speaker; Rep. Jordan was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. On October 11, House Republicans voted 113-99 to nominate Leader Scalise for the speakership. The very next day, Leader Scalise withdrew his candidacy for speaker because he lacked the votes to be elected. (Because of the narrow Republican majority in the House, and because unanimous Democratic opposition is a foregone conclusion, a candidate for speaker cannot be elected if he is opposed by more than four Republican House members.)

On October 13, House Republicans voted 124-81 to nominate Rep. Jordan for speaker. A founder of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Jordan is popular with many conservatives; however, his candidacy is not supported by some establishment figures within the Republican Party. He was opposed by Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), an ally of Rep. McCarthy.

On October 17, the House voted on Rep. Jordan’s speaker candidacy for the first time. Rep. Jordan fell short by a vote of 200-212. All House Democrats voted for their leader, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), while 20 Republicans—mostly moderates—declined to support Rep. Jordan; instead, those Republicans voted for persons such as Rep. McCarthy, Majority Leader Scalise, and former Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY). The New York Times reported that some Scalise supporters were angry with Rep. Jordan’s camp due to a lack of support for Leader Scalise’s bid for the speakership. The next day, another vote was held, and Rep. Jordan was defeated, 199-212. Four New York Republicans—Reps. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY4), Andrew Garbarino (R-NY2), Nick LaLota (R-NY1), and Mike Lawler (R-NY17)—declined to vote for Rep. Jordan on Oct. 17 or Oct. 18. Following the second failed vote, Politico reported that Rep. Jordan’s bid for the speakership was “on its last legs”.

Also on October 18, CNBC reported that “‘a growing number of Republicans and Democrats were coalescing around a plan’” to give Rep. Patrick McHenry, who has been acting as speaker pro tempore, additional powers. Taking this step would enable the House to conduct business again until a permanent speaker is elected. However, one member of the Freedom Caucus asserted that conservatives would respond to this course of action by blocking all bills from reaching the House floor.

It is in the best interest of the United States for the House of Representatives to begin functioning again, and it is not in anyone’s best interest for the federal government to shut down next month. New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms calls upon House Republicans to elect a new speaker as soon as possible. To accomplish this task, members of the opposing factions within the House Republican Conference must put aside their individual interests and their differences. It is one thing to stand for one’s principles; it is another to insist that others accommodate one’s preferences.

UPDATE: On October 20, the House of Representatives held a third vote on Rep. Jim Jordan’s nomination for speaker of the House. The vote failed, with 25 Republicans opting not to support Rep. Jordan. Later that day, House Republicans voted, 122-86, to dump Rep. Jordan as their nominee for the speakership. Given that House Republicans have cooled to the notion of giving additional authority to interim Speaker Patrick McHenry, it is unclear which path the deeply divided House Republican Conference will pursue next.