WASHINGTON — Bottom line up front: We don’t know what’s going to happen with the House speaker’s race, or when.
This is an unprecedented moment of incredible uncertainty in the House, as the chamber is in its third week without a speaker and Congress remains effectively paralyzed by the Republican in-fighting.
Several paths forward are viable, some others are less likely, but Washington is essentially at the mercy of the choices of Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, who Republicans nominated to be speaker last week, and Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry of North Carolina right now, and they are figuring out what they want to do next.
Here is the basic state of play.
Is Jim Jordan going to be speaker?
Right now, it really doesn’t look like it. His opponents have predicted that each round, he will lose more and more votes, and so far they’ve been the ones who can count accurately. Yes, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California took the speaker race to 15 rounds of voting and wore down his detractors, but McCarthy went into his votes with a lot of good will from Republican lawmakers who genuinely liked him, and with a strong leadership team operation. Jordan lacks the skilled team and has much less good will from members he has antagonized for years, many of whom saw Jordan as a third choice for speaker, at best. McCarthy also was negotiating for something with his critics — Jordan’s critics oppose him on principle and on the grounds that he and his supporters played unfairly in tanking the speakership bids of McCarthy and Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
Essentially, Jordan’s speakership bid looks cooked, it’s just a matter of time when he decides to accept that reality.
So what will we do today?
The House will reconvene at noon and may or may not go into another speaker vote. Leadership has said they may vote “no earlier than” noon, but so far have not released a schedule that indicates if and when they may be voting. McHenry currently controls the floor and has been working closely with Jordan, so he will defer to whether Jordan wants to go through another round, and when. Republicans and Democrats are expected to meet internally among their own parties before the vote, after which we may learn next steps.
In a sign of the disorganization thus far, though, yesterday pizza showed up to Republicans’ usual gathering place for a rumored 1:30 p.m. meeting that was never actually scheduled. Lawmakers didn’t show up, and the pizza was dispersed throughout the Capitol.
Yesterday, Jordan and his supporters pledged to see his speaker battle through to the bitter end and win the battle of wills, but members are going to grow tired of this soon enough and he may go from steadily bleeding support to seeing it evaporate.
So what happens next if Jordan doesn’t have the votes?
This is where things are most unclear.
There is a growing belief on the right and left that the next option and most viable option is to take a vote that would temporarily give McHenry, as speaker pro tem, more official authority to call legislation and oversee the functioning of the House, likely until the end of the year or thereabouts. Ohio Republican Representative David Joyce is drafting something along these lines, but as of yesterday told reporters that exactly what he’ll propose was still under construction. Negotiations are happening in various corners about what the sides could stomach.
Democrats would like this option if it means the House can get through a government funding bill, supplemental money for border security, the war in Ukraine and the war in Israel, and basically dispense with all their pressing business by the end of the year. Then they’ll sit back as Republicans try to resolve their messy speaker battle.
Some Republicans are also on board with this idea, as they want to see aid for Israel, the border, and in some cases, Ukraine pass and also don’t want to see a government shutdown. That would also allow speaker candidates time to build coalitions and support in the background.
But there are some conservative Republicans who are excoriating this idea, saying it would be a cave to Democrats. They also fear it could take the pressure off the House to elect a speaker like their choice of Jordan.
There are other pretty far-fetched scenarios like some Republicans voting for Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York (this is, at present moment, a delusional fantasy) or some sort of bipartisan power-sharing agreement. Don’t hold your breath for any of these.
Ultimately: Stay tuned!